Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry After Meeting With Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama

PRIME MINISTER RAMA: (Via interpreter) Hello, everyone. This visit of the State Secretary John Kerry is the best start of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relationships between Albania and the United States. That is a fact that makes me twice as happy to have the Secretary with us today.

Albanians share with the United States a new history of very close ties which in April last year got to know a new development through the signatory in Washington of the document of a joint declaration of strategic partnership. That document has best defined the benchmarks for the extension and deepening of our cooperation in the coming decade in the area of security, energy, rule of law, and good governance with particular focus on economy. We fully share with Secretary Kerry the view that the further development of the strategic partnership between Albania and the United States shall play a key role to boosting security across all the area of the Adriatic Europe.

In a Europe disconcerted with today’s challenges and dilemmas, our region has got a specific geostrategic relevance, and Albanians are a key factor within it. It is quite evident that our special connection with the United States gives us credibility and also specific and particular responsibility to promoting peace, enhancing security, and strengthening democracy in this part of Europe. That is a reason, but not only – the only one that Albanians are faithfully grateful to the United States, as without the United States by our sides along these all 25 exceptional years to the history of our country, neither Albania nor Albanians would have felt today more respected than ever in their history.

Likewise, without the precious support and advice of the United States, Albania would have not managed to mark so much progress in its path of reforms the in last two years. It’s been a pleasure, but also I was quite proud today to inform the Secretary of State of the laborious endeavor – but quite a hopeful one – in the wide front of the (inaudible) reforms, the encouraging results in the fight against crime and drugs, the efforts to recover energy area, to grow economically, to tackle informality, and so on. We particularly discussed with regard to the reform in justice that is quite crucial to the sustainability and results of every other reform and progress we intend to make in every other area.

We are grateful to the United States for the precious and constant support they have provided to our country in these reforms since – up-front since the first day of starting the reform and the relentless work of the U.S. experts, along with the European and Albanian experts, in the technical team developing such reform. Our common goal, also, thanks to the direct implications produced by the reform progress and the European process, is to have March the month in which the assembly shall pass the constitutional amendment package. I am fully confident that we shall succeed, and the very fact that we are not on our own but have the United States by our side makes such optimism to be successful quite reasonable in this historical endeavor for Albania of the 21st century.

As friends, partners, and close allies, we have worked, are working, and will continue to work closely with NATO, the United Nations, and other international organizations. There is nothing that divides us with the United States, but rather there is everything that joins and brings us together. Our troops will keep participating in their mission in Afghanistan along with the American troops and shall stay there together with our great ally for as long as it is deemed necessary.

With the Secretary of State, we obviously spoke about the terrorist threat and the deepening of our cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and violent extremism also as a part of the global coalition against ISIS. I informed the Secretary of the latest measures Albania has undertaken in this direction for the consolidation of the legal framework, of the work of the law enforcement agencies, as well as the latest approval and start of the implementation of strategy against violent extremism, as well as the regional cooperation in this respect. I also had the pleasure to share with the Secretary the progress we have made in the months following the meeting with President Obama in the United Nations with regard to our idea for the new curriculum that will provide information to students on religious – religions and their values. This is going to be a joint success that shall produce quite a crucial progress in the fundamental aspect of the fight against terrorism – that is, the fight for the minds and souls of the next generation.

We also talked about the bilateral cooperation in the area of economic development, with us having lately noticed – and with quite a pleasure – an increased interest of the U.S. companies in Albania. We will strongly support their enhanced presence in the country. One of the points of our conversation was also the energy security, and I informed the Secretary of State on the very positive progress of our project of regional interaction in this area and the role Albania is ready to play as a connecting point in the Balkans with the European energy market, in particular through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. I also spoke about the particular importance we dedicate to extending the gas line up in the Adriatic-Ionian corridor as an imperative – strategic imperative for the regional integration in the broadest European integration framework and the Euro-Atlantic region.

We are extremely happy that Montenegro received the invitation to join NATO. We very much hope that the same happens with Macedonia, hence wishing that it rids itself as soon as possible of the impasse and whatever keeps it in its path towards NATO. And in the meantime we wish for it to meet every obligation deriving from the Ohrid Agreement.

While Kosovo and Serbia keep with their dialogue to go towards normalization, we know that it’s not an easy dialogue, and even less so is the implementation of the things which are agreed upon, but it is without doubt the only path towards success for each party in the region as an entire area. We will intensify cooperation with the United States to consolidate the democratic development, not only in Albania but also in the neighboring country, as a prerequisite for the security, stability, and prosperity of the region. In this context, Kosovo shall keep having the support of its two closest allies, which is Albania and the United States, and we are fully optimistic for this chapter as well and have many reasons to be.

The very crisis of the refugees has highlighted reinforced interaction between the EU and the Western Balkans countries, and this is a momentum that needs to be taken advantage of to ensure that this part of Europe is within Europe and that the European integration of our countries is not viewed as just part of a routine, a long path that for Europe today is much more complicated and brings about so many more challenges.

Finally, the regional cooperation network in our region has never been more active, with the most recent initiatives in this direction being the Western Balkans Fund and the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, whose headquarters shall be based in Tirana. Tirana is increasingly wanting to be the voice of peace, understanding, and cooperation in every (inaudible) respect, with no exclusion whatsoever on ethnic, political, or religious or cultural grounds.

Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary of State, and through you I would like to extend special thanks to President Obama for your commitment and active contribution not only in function of the peace, stability in this corner of Europe, but also for the benevolent support you have provided to Albania and Albanians that makes even wholer our dynamic and constructive role in the Western Balkans. Once again, thank you, dear Mr. Secretary, and the floor is yours.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning to all of you, and thank you very, very much, Mr. Prime Minister. It really is a very special opportunity to be here with you today. You and I have met. I have admired your leadership. I appreciate your creativity enormously. And I am deeply appreciative of the palpable, the tangible warmth of the welcome here in Tirana, in Albania today. And I am grateful for you taking the time, along with Foreign Minister Bushati and the rest of your team, to share with us all of the thoughts that you just described in your very comprehensive statement. President Obama and I and the American people are very grateful for the leadership that you are offering and for your team’s efforts to not just care about Albania and Albanian’s interests but to embrace a broad set of values which define all of us and I think really are at the root of the great friendship that the United States and Albania share.

I am here because we are friends. I want to emphasize that. We are allies. We have enormous mutual interests and we have traveled a very interesting and very special road in our diplomatic relations which, as the prime minister reminded everybody, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of those diplomatic relations in one month. I think I can tell you that, as our ambassador here, Donald Lu, has told me, our relations really are extremely healthy and very, very warm, and we’re all very, very grateful for that fact.

I have listened carefully to the thoughts of the prime minister this morning, and I think he made very important points and opened up opportunities for the United States and Albania to work even more closely together. We’re living in a time of enormous global challenge. Albania has understood those challenges, and your leadership has been very important in helping the United States and others to be able to meet the test of our times: this fight against violent extremism, this effort to distort a great religion and to use it for, in many cases, evil purposes that have nothing to do with any religion on the face of this planet.

So I have just come from Munich, where our focus was the struggle in the Middle East and the need to confront and defeat the terrorist group Daesh. And there obviously was much discussion, as we all know, about the impact of that fight as it is playing out in Syria and the impact with migration throughout the region. We know that defeating Daesh is not going to happen just because of what any one country does. It’s going to require a broad coalition, and we have built that coalition. And Albania, I am proud to say and grateful to say, is a charter member of that coalition. Albania has been there from the beginning, willing to stand by all countries in opposition to Daesh. And it is standing up with us in support of Iraq. It is standing up with us in support of Afghanistan. And it is standing with us in the long-term struggle to emphasize to people the importance of tolerance, to marginalize violent extremes, to recognize that it is important for all of us to be able to build societies and communities in which you may not agree with everybody else but you have a tolerance for their views, provided they are living within the law and within the norms of decency and international behavior.

Albania is not just a friend and not just a country that has shown in so many ways a special affection for the United States, but Albania is also a NATO ally, and that brings special responsibilities for this region. And we are grateful for Albania’s membership and partnership in that alliance.

During our meeting today, the prime minister and the foreign minister and I had a good chance to review Albania’s significant progress – the real steps that Albania is taking in order to take on its full responsibilities in this alliance and friendship, and also to do the things that it wants to do and has embraced in order to be able to be more deeply integrated in Euro-Atlantic institutions.

The evidence is absolutely clear, and Albania should be very pleased with the fact that your country is moving in the right direction. You are on the right track, and I am quite confident that with the awareness that has been embraced in your legislation with respect to combating corruption, I am very, very heartened, as everybody is, to know that your reforms are well underway. I am personally impressed by the approval of legislation to bar criminals from the political system. That’s a courageous step, it’s an important step, and it’s a significant statement with respect to the road that Albania is on. I am encouraged, very much so, by the judicial reform package that is now being considered in order to improve the judiciary and allow for a greater crackdown on corruption.

And I want to emphasize this is something that your leadership is embracing, that they are working hard to be able to deliver. And they are committed, I am convinced, to the fight for more accountable governance, and that requires the support of every single Albanian. The United States is absolutely ready and willing, and I am here to affirm on behalf of President Obama that we are with you in this transformation and in this journey.

But in the end, only Albanians can enact the laws – the right laws – and insist on their effective implementation. Now, I know this from personal experience. I shared with the prime minister my own journey as a young prosecutor in the state of Massachusetts in America, and I know that it’s tough to take on those who have become happy with a process of avoiding their shared responsibilities to the entire nation by engaging in one kind of corrupt activity or another. But as hard as it is, I am convinced that the prime minister and the government are committed to a track that will guarantee that Albania’s future is one that will take it to a full partnership with Europe and the rest of the world and to prosperity and better opportunity for all the people of Albania.

The people of this country know full well and want to live in a place that where the rule of law means exactly that: It is the rule of law and its judges and prosecutors abide by exactly the same rules as the average citizen in every street, and that everyone else will be treated fairly, no matter what political party is in power and no matter who belongs to what party, no matter what your politics are.

Albania, I want to affirm, has come a long way in the last quarter of a century. And as the people of my own country can attest, it is hard work. It’s not easy building a strong democracy, and it is the work of many decades, really. And frankly, the work is never done. We are still working to perfect our own. We have our own set of challenges. The most important thing is that you talk about them openly and you work in a concerted way to try to address the concerns of the people.

Albania has made significant progress and is clearly committed – no question about it – to achieving more. And in so doing, Albania can count on the full friendship and support of the people of the United States, of our government. And I must say I have so many friends of Albanian descent in America who have always said to me, “You have to go to Albania. You’ve got to visit.” I’m sorry it’s such a short visit. I have to come back, and I will, but I promise you this: The United States of America and Albania will only grow and strengthen this special relationship that we have today. And I thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for a very warm and generous first welcome to Albania. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER RAMA: Thank you very much. (Applause.)