The Honorable President of the Republic Bujar Nishani, Ms. Arta Dade, Mr. Eduart Selami, Dr. Edith Harxhi, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
On this 24th anniversary of our resumption of diplomatic relations, I wanted to remember for the moment the visit of Secretary of State James Baker to Tirana 24 years ago. Maybe some of you also remember that historic day in June. I recently spoke to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns who as a young diplomat was with Secretary Baker on that trip.
Ambassador Burns said that no one on the delegation knew what to expect, because Albania had been closed off to the world for so many years. When they arrived they were completely overwhelmed by the emotional response of the people of Tirana, many of whom were meeting Americans for the first time.
Secretary Baker said, “You are free to think your own thoughts … to choose your own leaders. Albanians have chosen to join the company of free men and women everywhere.” In our Embassy we have an inspiring photo of the Secretary speaking in front of an enormous crowd in Skanderbeg Square, some waving American flags and signs of welcome.
It is a reminder for me every time I see this photo that our relations are more than just a political convenience or a military alliance. We are bound together by history, by family ties and by shared values.
Next month, James Baker turns 85. If he were to return to Tirana, what would he see? He would find a people who made enormous progress in a short span of history. He would find a people who have sacrificed much for a better life for their children. He would also find a country at another key moment in its democratic transition.
The people of Albania today continue to struggle with the legacy of communism. They must battle with the forces of crime and corruption every day – in their schools, in their businesses, in their courts, and even in their parliament. Albanians are tough people and we are confident that Albania is ready to face this challenge without fear.
The United States believes in Albania. Not in a particular political party or in a single political leader, but in the ability of courageous Albanians to support change and make sacrifices for themselves and for their children. I am confident at the end of the day, the majority of Albanians who stand for honesty and integrity will prevail over those who stand for crime, violence and corruption. I pledge that Albanians will continue to have the support of the United States in this important battle.