Statements by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thank you everybody for joining us this evening. This the sixth stop on a seven country Balkan trip that I’m doing with our interagency team and this is the second year that we have done this trip. It is a chance to touch base with our partners and our allies around the region. So it’s an opportunity for us to talk about regional issues, to talk about the contribution that Balkan countries make to global peace and security but also to work together on the issues that the U.S. has long supported throughout the region: issues of democratization, economic and rule of law reform, and the Euro-Atlantic path of all of the countries of this region and the way they work together on these issues.

So we had a very full afternoon today.  We had a long session with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. I also had a chance to sit with the President and then I went to see Mr. Basha, the leader of the opposition party. And then we had a terrific round table with a broad cross-section of non-governmental institutions working on democracy issues, working on rule of law issues, LGBT rights, environmental issues. And in all of these conversations we talked about a full range of issues that are part of the U.S. – Albania Strategic Partnership that we signed last year. We talked about security, the work we do together in NATO. We talked about judicial reform, rule of law, decriminalization. We talked about the recent elections that you had and the democratic process moving forward.  We talked about developments in the region and with your neighbors. And we have of course talked about economic issues, growth, investment, energy opportunities.

My message was the same in every meeting with government, with opposition, with the non-governmental organizations, with civil society: the United States for 20 years has invested and has cared about the democratic Euro-Atlantic development of Albania.  You have made enormous progress in 20 years. We have been proud to be your partners and allies in this process, but I don’t have to tell you that there is considerable work still to do and we will stand with you as you do it. Whether it is fighting the challenge of extremism, whether it is ensuring that the future generation benefits from a clean, democratic Albania or whether it is meeting your aspirations, not only to be NATO members but also to be EU members.

And now I will take a couple of questions.

Q: Met Veliu, Top Channel TV station.  Albania’s people do appreciate every single declaration made by your ambassador in Tirana with regard to cleaning up the justice system, but everybody is asking this question: when will the U.S. Embassy in Albania mention the names of the corrupted people inside the justice system? Do you have any plans to do that in the future? Thank you.

A/S Nuland: Well, thank you for this question. In meetings with both the government and the opposition today we talked extensively about the commitment that you have made, that the government and the parliament have made, to significant and serious judicial reform. What you were pleased about, what we have been pleased about in the last week, is that there now appears to be a commitment on the part of the government and on the part of the opposition to work together on this and the structures are now agreed how they will do that. There is a reason why you have seen our ambassador, Ambassador Lu,  speak out very publicly about the need for judicial reform and the need to do it in a spirit of unity, in a spirit of multi-party commitment.  That is because all your friends in Washington, all of your friends in the United States, believe that unless you tackle this complex set of issues and you do it together, all interests in Albania together, you will not be able to take that next democratic step. And the people of Albania have waited too long for clean impartial justice, to be confident in their courts. So it is not a matter of the United States naming names; it is a matter of this reform producing a better, cleaner system where judges and prosecutors are held accountable for impartial conduct. We think that is possible with good reform, with good laws, with good stress tests, but that is for you to do, not for us to do.  So, I heard strong commitment on all sides today.  We will be watching everybody to make sure they fulfill those commitments.

Q: News 24: We have heard a lot lately about incriminated politicians in Albania. What does the U.S. think about this and will the U.S. take measures against these politicians? Like for example not being able to travel to the U.S.?

A/S Nuland: Well, again this is an issue you have heard Ambassador Lu speak strongly about, about criminality in the political system. He does that with the full support of all of us in Washington.  Frankly, in a democracy, the people of the country, the voters, deserve better than to be presented with candidates with criminal records.  And we call on all Albanians to insist that the political parties here offer them clean candidates, offer them people who want to take the country forward rather than drag it backwards.  But again, what we want to see is legislation or constitutional changes that make it very, very difficult for any parties to put forward people who have criminality in their past or who want to pursue criminality from positions of power. But you shouldn’t want justice to be made from the outside; you shouldn’t want the United States judging this one or that one or the other one. You should want a system that makes it impossible for this to happen. So this is why we are supporting the kind of reforms that would make this a no-go zone for dirty politicians. And we want to see all of the political leaders regardless of party join hands and make the kind of systemic legislative constitutional reforms that support a cleaner system.  And, again, we heard good commitments from both the government and the opposition today.  Now they need to work together to make it a reality.

One last thing I just want to say before we get on the plane and go to our last stop is that we also had very good talks across the political spectrum today and with the NGO representatives about the need to tackle extremism and about the work that you are doing to address these issues in Albania and regionally. And we really do consider that Albania has stepped up as a regional leader in this fight and we very much appreciate that as partners.  You have a rich tradition of multi-ethnic collaboration and cooperation and of mutual respect across religions and that sends a strong message to the region and to the world and we congratulate you for the work you are doing to strengthen those tendencies here and to set a strong example for your neighbors.  It is always great to be here, but unfortunately I have to head for Belgrade now. Thank you for coming.