President Meta, Prime Minister Rama, Ministers and Generals, Mr. Basha, men and women in uniform, dear friends,
What a beautiful day to showcase our militaries and Exercise Defender Europe 2021, which is the largest U.S.-led military exercise ever seen in the Western Balkans!
This is landmark moment for U.S.-Albanian cooperation in defense. It is also a landmark moment for the NATO Alliance. The Exercise is well underway now, and it is shaping up to be a huge success. Defender 21 has been a military success.
In the past weeks, soldiers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been training together to strengthen our readiness, capabilities, and interoperability so that NATO Allies and Partners can accomplish any mission on land, across the sea, and in the air.
Our readiness, capabilities, and interoperability ensure that we can deter conflict, preserve peace, and keep our nations safe. Additionally, Defender 21 has laid the groundwork for even stronger cooperation in the years ahead. I have had the opportunity to visit many of the training sites in Albania. At every site, the first thing I see is Albanians and Americans working together and getting to know each other. The professional and personal relationships forming now transcend military training – they strengthen our ties.
Our soldiers in uniform feel exactly the same way that we diplomats in suits feel about this country: They marvel at Albania’s beauty, they appreciate the warm hospitality of the Albanian people, and they are proud that the United States calls Albania a friend and Ally. As friends and Allies, U.S. and Albanian soldiers have been at each other’s side in numerous conflicts, from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond.
And we know from those experiences that America has a true and courageous friend in Albania. Defender 21 opens an exciting new path to greater strategic cooperation. This path will see U.S. soldiers returning to Albania to train, build partnerships, and make friends for life. I believe the success of Defender 21 reflects the commitment of the leaders and people of Albania. We appreciate that, regardless of the differences that may divide people from time to time, you recognize that we are at an important moment in history, and all of you are united in your agreement with all of us on the value and importance of an even stronger relationship between the United States and Albania, between Americans and Albanians.
Defender 21 comes as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of communist dictatorship, the beginning of democracy in Albania, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania. It also comes a hundred years after the United States stood with you in your just demand for an independent Albania. We stand with you today, in strong support and solidarity for a democratic, independent, strong Albania.
We will continue to stand with you as you undertake the difficult tasks now necessary to achieve Albania’s full potential. These tasks are difficult but not impossible. And even if they were impossible, if anyone can defy the odds, it is the people of Albania. You’ve done it time and again throughout the history, and I have to say I am deeply moved to be standing here, in Albania, and looking straight down to Skanderbeg square, to the statue of your hero, someone who should be a hero for all of us, as a symbol of unity, as a symbol of courage, perseverance, and vision. I am proud to be with you here today, we’re proud to be with you as allies, today, tomorrow, krah per krah, always.
Thank you! Faleminderit!