Blendi Fevziu: Good evening honored viewers. I speak to you from the studio of Opinion program, as every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 22:00 and every Thursday at 21:00. Today’s show will be divided into several parts, but in the first part, that is, starting now, the guest is American Ambassador to Tirana, Yuri Kim. It will be an interview focused mainly on the latest developments in the rapport between Albania and the U.S. It’s the 100th anniversary of relations between the two countries. There have been a series of engagements, activities throughout the summer. Naturally, their climax was July 28, the day when it was exactly 100 years from the establishment of diplomatic relations between Albania and the U.S., which culminated until 1939. In September 1939, they were severed to resume again in March 1991. Naturally, the interview will focus not only on the historical part, but also on issues of the day, those related to the topics of relations between Albania and the U.S., problems of Albania with Iran and the role of the United States, but also the view of the United States of America on the war in Ukraine, the fight against terrorism, Russian financing, and also the domestic politics in Albania. Ambassador Kim, welcome to the studio of Opinion.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you, great to be here.
Blendi Fevziu: Hope you had a very nice summer.
Ambassador Kim: Very nice summer, very nice.
Blendi Fevziu: Still in Albania?
Ambassador Kim: Still in Albania and, in fact, I had so many guests in Albania. I felt like a tour guide. I had…some of my old high school friends came, some of my college friends came, some of my work friends came.
Blendi Fevziu: They returned again?
Ambassador Kim: Different group this time.
Blendi Fevziu: That means they love Albania!
Ambassador Kim: They love Albania. My brother came with three of his four daughters, so, we spent some time here we went down to Himara, we went down to Dhërmi, everywhere.
Blendi Fevziu: What was their perception about Albania?
Ambassador Kim: I think they were surprised. Number one, you know, sometimes when you see the news, it’s just focused on the bad news, you know…
Blendi Fevziu: Albanian news or international news?
Ambassador Kim: No, international news.
Blendi Fevziu: Because bad things always make news…
Ambassador Kim: You know what they say in the news business, they say: ‘if it bleeds, it leads’, meaning if it’s bad news and it’s dramatic, they put it on the front page.
Blendi Fevziu: That means the perception they have before coming here and the reality they found here are totally different?
Ambassador Kim: The reality is much nicer. First of all, the people are wonderful, and I think they were surprised by how much…
Blendi Fevziu: …hospitality…
Ambassador Kim: …yeah, hospitality there is, everybody opens their doors.
Blendi Fevziu: And what about the food?
Ambassador Kim: Fantastic.
Blendi Fevziu: Fantastic.
Ambassador Kim: Fantastic. The Italian food is better in Albania than in Italy.
Blendi Fevziu: Yeah, absolutely. Because we have better chefs…
Ambassador Kim: …you have better chefs, all the best chefs…
Blendi Fevziu: But, Ambassador, you have been in love with the sea, the south sea, let’s say. Have you visited also other parts of Albania?
Ambassador Kim: Yes, of course. Every year I try to climb at least one mountain. Last year, I climbed Korabi…
Blendi Fevziu: Korabi, yes.
Ambassador Kim: …the year before, we went on a hike from Valbona to Theth; this year, I’m looking for one more place. I haven’t decided yet.
Blendi Fevziu: Which will it be?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t know. I was thinking maybe Tomorri? I don’t know.
Blendi Fevziu: It’s a very nice mountain, absolutely. Yeah. And the view is perfect from there.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Blendi Fevziu: But let’s return to the history of the U.S.-Albania relations and the expertise you have about Albanian politics. First of all, it has been big news, and still is, in the media, your visit to former President Ilir Meta’s party. What was the purpose of your visit there?
Ambassador Kim: Well, let’s start out with the big picture first. This is indeed a very significant year. Last year, as you know, we celebrated 30 years of renewed diplomatic relations this year is 100 years. It was broken up – there were two moments when the United States left – once was in 1946, for a very long time and then the second time…
Blendi Fevziu: …because of the communist regime…
Ambassador Kim: …exactly…
Blendi Fevziu: …and our bad foreign policy…
Ambassador Kim: Exactly. And then in 1997, when we left for a short period because of the chaos and the violence that was allowed to take over this country. In that situation, we came back very quickly…
Blendi Fevziu: But I think the Ambassador has been here at that time, Ambassador Marisa Lino, never left…
Ambassador Kim: We left. We left.
Blendi Fevziu: Okay.
Ambassador Kim: So, we came back. And we’re now at a point in history where Albania and the United States are sitting together at the UN Security Council, you saw it yourself. I have to say personally, when I saw my old boss Tony Blinken, sitting next to my new colleague, Foreign Minister Olta Xhaçka, on the Security Council talking about Russia and Ukraine…
Blendi Fevziu: …in front of Foreign Minister Lavrov…
Ambassador Kim: Exactly. Talking about Russia and Ukraine in front of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and other members of the Security Council; it made me proud. And I think that every Albanian…
Blendi Fevziu: …It’s an important moment for Albania.
Ambassador Kim: Very good. So, we have…
Blendi Fevziu: And Albania will be the head of the Security Council next September again
Ambassador Kim: That’s right. So, this is a historic moment combined with the fact that in July, the formal negotiations for Albania’s entry into the European Union was announced. This is big, historic news. It’s just as important as when Albania began to negotiate for NATO membership.
Blendi Fevziu: And the United States played a role in that?
Ambassador Kim: We always support Albania’s future as a full member of Europe…
Blendi Fevziu: Publicly or even underground?
Ambassador Kim: In all ways. Sometimes, you know, we do it quietly. Sometimes we do it publicly, but it is always very clear that for the United States, we want Albania to be at our side. We want Albania to be part of Europe. We want Albania to have a strong democracy.
Blendi Fevziu: Albania doesn’t have another way except the West, let’s say the European Union and the United States of America.
Ambassador Kim: I wouldn’t say Albania has no other way. You have to make a choice. You have to make a choice.
Blendi Fevziu: Choice?
Ambassador Kim: Well, I’ll tell you. So, I think in 1920, at the end of World War I, Albania chose to break away from the Ottoman Empire and to become an independent state. The United States chose to support Albanians’ aspirations in that regard…
Blendi Fevziu: The big story of President Wilson.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. And at the end of World War Two, Albania chose, the communists chose for this country a communist path, which was, in our view, obviously, not the right choice. In 1991, the Albanian people chose a path that we supported. In 2008 – 2009, the Albanian people you who again wanted to be part of NATO, now you’re choosing to be part of the EU so there are big choices to be made now. Thirty-one years since the end of communism …
Blendi Fevziu: Yes…
Ambassador Kim: It’s time for the Albanian people and the Albanian government to choose again which way you are going. We think that the path is forward towards the future, towards the West
Blendi Fevziu: You think we have doubts in…
Ambassador Kim: I think that sometimes, when you look at issues like the weakness of democratic institutions, yes, nothing is guaranteed. So, I think leaders have to make a decision, which is also why we stress so strongly on the point of justice reform, rule of law, your relationship with NATO. We believe that institutions are essential for a democracy. And when we look at our relationship with Albania…
Blendi Fevziu: Especially for a young democracy like Albania…
Ambassador Kim: Exactly. It’s only been 31 years, which is not a long time at all. So, we need to work on strengthening Albania’s democratic institutions. So, let me go back to your original question related…
Blendi Fevziu: I will return to the question about Meta, but now because we started, I can ask two other questions.
Ambassador Kim: Okay.
Blendi Fevziu: I will return to the meeting with the former President Meta. There has been published some news from a secret report of the American secret services about financing of Russia in the world. Let’s say the financing of Putin and the Kremlin. According to the VOA, this report has said that in Albania has been done $500,000 for DP from Russian sources. What information do we have more on that story?
Ambassador Kim: So, I don’t have anything more to announce than what has come out of Washington. I won’t comment on any specific cases, but here’s the thing. The situation in Albania is not unique. In other words, we have seen the Russian government try around the world to undermine democracies, to sow doubt about democratic processes about elections…
Blendi Fevziu: They did it also openly in Europe in some countries…
Ambassador Kim: …they did it in Europe, they did it in the United States.
Blendi Fevziu: Yeah, even the United States, you had an investigation with the…
Ambassador Kim: Right. So, you know, in the same way that earlier this year and towards the end of last year, we started to openly share information about what Russia was trying to do to Ukraine. We decided to share information about what Russia is trying to do in democracies around the world…
Blendi Fevziu: Have you shared this information with the Albanian government?
Ambassador Kim: Yes we…
Blendi Fevziu: …because I asked Prime Minister Rama and he said we don’t need any information because we know this story…
Ambassador Kim: So, we share information with democracies around the world on this point. But we also share information with the public and the key information is that since 2014, we verified that the Russian government has spent at least, at least $300 million, which is nothing…
Blendi Fevziu: Yeah, could be much more probably…
Ambassador Kim: …just a small percentage of the amount of money that the Russians are paying to influence media, to make politicians and other leaders corrupt, to buy ads, to buy stories, to spread misinformation and disinformation in social media. So, the purpose of our sharing this information about Russian efforts to undermine democracies is to say, we have experienced it, we know you have experienced it, and we need to take steps. So, for example, I met last week with the Chairman of the Central Election Commission, along with leaders of all of the political parties, and the main message there was: you need to take steps to guard against efforts by Russia and others to undermine democracy. That includes putting in place campaign finance laws, and also putting in place anti-money laundering measures.
Blendi Fevziu: But why have American officials mentioned in this report for $300 million, only Albania, Bosnia, who everybody knows the influence of Russia, and Madagascar? Why Albania?
Ambassador Kim: So, I can’t comment on specifics…
Blendi Fevziu: Small country, in 300 million dollars, to be mentioned Albania?
Ambassador Kim: So, I think this is just an illustration of the real dangers that are posed. But the key point is that we have to act. We have to act.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes, it’s important. On the other side, the Democratic Party has made that declaration yesterday that not one dollar has been going out from the account of the Democratic Party on that way. On the case Muzin.
Ambassador Kim: I haven’t seen it.
Blendi Fevziu: You haven’t seen it….
Ambassador Kim: I haven’t. I haven’t seen the statement.
Blendi Fevziu: And then, do you think really that Albania has Russian or Chinese influence? Or trying to influence?
Ambassador Kim: The Russians, the Chinese and others are constantly seeking to influence…
Blendi Fevziu: Even here?
Ambassador Kim: I think so.
Blendi Fevziu: Even in the media?
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Blendi Fevziu: Do you have information or concrete things? Concrete information?
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Blendi Fevziu: Can you share with us?
Ambassador Kim: No.
Blendi Fevziu: No? But you know?
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Blendi Fevziu: Even in the media.
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Blendi Fevziu: Thank you, let’s return to the visit to former President Meta’s office, what was the purpose?
Ambassador Kim: Okay, so, we talked earlier about the importance of democratic institutions. For us, institutional relationships are extremely important. I know sometimes with media here, but also in America, we like to personalize it, right? We like to make it about this person and that person, but…
Blendi Fevziu: It’s normal…
Ambassador Kim: It’s normal, yeah! But actually, for democracies and for diplomacy from America, it’s about institutions. So, for us, it’s normal, and it’s important for us to have contacts with all of the political actors that are here in Albania because we, first of all, we want to make sure that we understand each other. Second, we want to encourage each other, I think, help each other when necessary or, when appropriate, to continue to keep Albania on the right path. So, I’ll continue to meet with a wide range of political leaders from all parties. You know, I just have one restriction, and it’s not a self-imposed restriction. It’s a restriction from Washington…
Blendi Fevziu: For Mr. Berisha, yes…
Ambassador Kim: …which is that I will not meet with somebody who is designated by the Secretary of State for significant corruption or for undermining democracy,
Blendi Fevziu: But even in relation with the former president Meta has been strong sometimes. You have exchanged the declaration between the statements, let’s say, and then Mr. Meta was invited for the main speech during the commemoration of the independence…
Ambassador Kim: Again, it’s not a secret message. It’s a very plain message, which is that democratic institutions matter. So, it’s normal in countries. I was just discussing this with my staff, that it’s normal, that for our Independence Day celebration, which is the biggest celebration, the most important one, it’s normal for the Ambassador to speak on behalf of the United States. And it’s normal to invite the senior government representative to speak on behalf of the host country. We have the great honor of almost every year having the President of the Republic of Albania and for us, regardless of who that person is, that’s the President of the Republic of Albania. That’s who speaks on behalf of the Albanian nation.
Blendi Fevziu: Yeah, Albanian people absolutely. And asking about the concrete things from the meeting. It was only a meeting to respect the institutions, or it was a meeting with concrete things?
Ambassador Kim: Well, we spoke for, I think, more than two hours. So, it was a very good discussion and some of the things that you know, former President Meta has talked about the things that we discussed and I think it was good to exchange views…
Blendi Fevziu: He agreed with you in all subjects?
Ambassador Kim: No, of course not.
Blendi Fevziu: There is an investigation by SPAK on the way about the lobbying of Mr. Meta in Washington in the United States. Have you helped SPAK with information from your institutions?
Ambassador Kim: I can’t comment on that.
Blendi Fevziu: And there are a lot of accusations against Mr. Meta in SPAK from different people, different small institutions. Do you think it’s a campaign against the party of the opposition?
Ambassador Kim: I think that’s for SPAK to investigate and to determine. It is not for diplomats or for politicians or for journalists …
Blendi Fevziu: No, because this case with the lobbying in United States needs also the help of the American institutions. Without the help of American institutions, they couldn’t investigate that case?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah, so as a broad, as a general principle, when we get a request for information from law enforcement partners around the world, and where we have a what’s known as a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, we try to help each other provide information.
Blendi Fevziu: What are you relations with SPAK, Ambassador?
Ambassador Kim: We, as you know…
Blendi Fevziu: You have been a big supporter of SPAK…
Ambassador Kim: Well, the United States along with the European Union has been a very strong supporter of judicial reform in Albania because it’s necessary for Albania to meet the requirements to join the EU. SPAK has been a central component of judicial reform. We provide technical advice; we provide other support; I think sometimes we help buy office supplies like computers and things like that. But mostly, we try to ensure that they have the support that they need from friends like the United States to do their job. Theirs is an extremely difficult job and we’re coming on justice reform after many years of people feeling that the justice system did not serve them. So, it’s now been six years since the laws for judicial reform, for justice reform, were passed
Blendi Fevziu: And the real work they started…
Ambassador Kim: People are feeling very, very impatient. They want results sooner they want bigger results. I think what we’re beginning to see is the…
Blendi Fevziu: It’s normal, huh, because the expectations from judicial reform have been very high.
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Blendi Fevziu: And the people are waiting now to see something concrete.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. And I’m with the people. I think that justice reform needs to deliver. I also think that justice reform is beginning to deliver. So, if I were an Albanian citizen, I would also be very impatient. But here’s, you know, I’ll share with you some facts.
Blendi Fevziu: Very good, yes.
Ambassador Kim: I always think that it’s important to have facts rather than just rumors, or speculation, or impressions.
Blendi Fevziu: But first I ask you, do you still think that SPAK can do it?
Ambassador Kim: Absolutely.
Blendi Fevziu: Are you sure?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Blendi Fevziu: Because many people are thinking that SPAK is doing something just as a façade, but not the real things. Let’s say it’s selective justice. They are looking at the people who are not more in the power and they are not looking at the people who are really powerful in Albania at the time.
Ambassador Kim: Well, what do you mean by that, Blendi? I’m going to interview you now. What do you mean by not people in power? Who should be in jail and on what basis before people think justice reform is real?
Blendi Fevziu: Yes, absolutely the people who have the kind of power in Albania.
Ambassador Kim: Okay, so, so far, I’ll give you some…
Blendi Fevziu: But not by public justice, by facts and the law
Ambassador Kim: Okay, so I’ll give you some data points. SPAK so far has a 90% conviction rate. In other words, when they indict someone, and they take that person or that entity to court, 90% of the time, there’s a guilty verdict, assets are seized, and people are put in prison. For the 12 years preceding 2019, the justice system, the special prosecutors here seized something like 20 million euros in assets, okay. In a period of over 10 years.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes.
Ambassador Kim: Since justice reform, since December of 2019, and through all of 2021, SPAK was able to seize more than 70 million euros in assets. Seven, zero. Seventy million euros. That includes things like buildings, businesses, cash in banks. So far, in 2022…
Blendi Fevziu: Temporarily frozen or…
Ambassador Kim: No, I’m talking…
Blendi Fevziu: …finished let’s say, the last decision…
Ambassador Kim: Yeah, yeah. So far, they have seized something like…For example, just in July, there was one case that produced over 10 million euros in seized assets.
Blendi Fevziu: Which case?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t have the name of the case but it’s over 10 million in assets. And so, at this current trajectory, we think that in this calendar year of 2022, they will be seizing more than 70 million, so it will probably end up being closer to 100 million. SPAK now has 60 full time investigators right, and they have all received special training from the U.S. FBI in Quantico. SPAK is also hiring eight dedicated financial investigators. And so, what they are going to do is to look at where assets are hidden so that prosecutors can seize them.
Blendi Fevziu: You are helping on that?
Ambassador Kim: Yes. And so this will really hit criminals in the pocketbook where it really counts. Since 2021, the number of investigations that SPAK is doing with EU countries has more than doubled. It has more than doubled with us. Now we’re going to have the Drug Enforcement Agency establish a presence in Albania. So, that’s very important. Okay, let me go back to your original point about not taking people who are in power…
Blendi Fevziu: Selective justice. You can…
Ambassador Kim: When is the last time, when is the last time, Blendi, when two ministers, powerful ministers, of the governing party, shortly after they left office, when was the last time that ministers were put into jail? Did you think that Saimir Tahiri would be going to jail? I bet you, you didn’t. I bet you that most people thought, here’s a person who will never face justice because he’s powerful. Here is a person that was protected. Right? That era of impunity is ending. The same thing is being demonstrated by our designations around the world. So, the idea that this is selective justice, I think, reflects impatience and a desire to see justice…
Blendi Fevziu: …stronger…
Ambassador Kim: …proceeding more quickly. I think that there is a close connection…
Blendi Fevziu: The important thing is to be the cases…
Ambassador Kim: … you have to get the right results, right? So, in my studying of prosecutions and justice in Albania, you know what I saw? I saw that there have been a lot of prosecutions opened before Justice Reform right before there was a SPAK, every year, the special prosecutor, here, there, everywhere would open a whole bunch of cases…
Blendi Fevziu: Yes.
Ambassador Kim: Who went to jail? Which ministers went to jail?
Blendi Fevziu: Very, very few people. Yes. Officials, not ministers.
Ambassador Kim: Not very few people. There’s never been a minister who has gone to jail. Never.
Blendi Fevziu: There’s been one, I think, in 2014.
Ambassador Kim: Who?
Blendi Fevziu: Spiro Ksera.
Ambassador Kim: Oh, really? Okay. But it’s very rare.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes.
Ambassador Kim: And I think we’re beginning to see SPAK delivering results. So, I think if I were an Albanian citizen, I would also be impatient. But I would also not lose faith because it’s moving forward.
Blendi Fevziu: But there has been a case, for example, where everybody is watching, it’s the case of the incinerators. And the people let’s say, I cannot guarantee about the facts, but every day in all studios, they’re putting facts, papers, documents, and we don’t have nothing concrete now.
Ambassador Kim: Let SPAK do its job.
Blendi Fevziu: It is working on that way?
Ambassador Kim: Let SPAK do its job.
Blendi Fevziu: Let’s return to the laundry money and the criminals. We have a big problem lately with organized crime in Albania, with gangs abroad. We’re working in the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, and bringing here all their problems, all their money, but also, let’s say their problems they have between them. The problem is, do you think Albania is becoming a very problematic country about organized crime? According to your information?
Ambassador Kim: I think Albania has a bad reputation. I think the view of the United States with respect to corruption and organized crime in Albania is very well known. They are captured in various reports that we issue every year. And they are also reflected in the fact that Albania, unfortunately, is on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force. This is the European body that examines financial practices around the world. And they use terminology like ‘strategic deficiency’ to describe Albania’s anti-money laundering mechanisms. So, it’s really important. You know, at the beginning of our interview, I talked about Albania making a choice, Albanian leaders making a choice. You have to choose now. You have to choose who owns the country. Is it going to be normal people? Is it going to be criminals? Who is going to own your land? Who is going to own all of those hotels? Who is going to profit?
Blendi Fevziu: Those skylines that actually nobody knows from where the money comes…
Ambassador Kim: That’s right… You have to be able to explain all of this and you have to take real steps to prevent money laundering. I know that there has been a lot of discussion about fiscal amnesty…
Blendi Fevziu: I will ask you about the fiscal amnesty, I totally agree with you about money laundering. But, there is another way of thinking in Albania. And they will tell you that people say: Why not, let’s say, black money, don’t come in Albania, those money comes from United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, the very democratic country with very strong laws and why those money cannot come in Albania to build the country. Some other people say even New York and even, I don’t know, London has been built by the dirty money.
Ambassador Kim: I think that’s a terrible argument.
Blendi Fevziu: But, it is an argument.
Ambassador Kim: It is an argument, but it’s a terrible argument. If you went down that direction, you would be putting into jeopardy Albania’s membership bid to become a member of the EU. And this is a country that will benefit tremendously from being a part of the EU. But it must also become a country that will give a lot and contribute to the collective prosperity and security of the European Union. It can’t just take, take, take. So, you have to take some steps here that will make Albania more transparent, that will help it overcome its strategic deficiencies, that will improve its image around the world. I hope that more and more people see the Albania that I see and that my friends when they come to Albania see, which is a country that is beautiful, with people who are incredibly generous and hardworking, and who know that their future is European.
Blendi Fevziu: Everybody thinks their future is European but I’m asking you now about the fiscal amnesty. It is on the way and it needs 84 votes and it’s not easy. The Socialist Party doesn’t have the votes, but Prime Minister Rama, I asked him one week ago, he said we are on the right way about the fiscal amnesty, he said we will do it because every country has done it and this is for our emigrants not for organized crime. What is your point of view about this fiscal amnesty?
Ambassador Kim: Our views about tools like fiscal amnesty and the steps that Albania needs to take to fight money laundering are very clear, they are well known. We have discussed this publicly, privately; they are captured in our reports, there are absolutely no surprises when it comes to the view of the United States on those issues. I haven’t seen the latest draft of the fiscal amnesty bill but let’s take a look.
Blendi Fevziu: You haven’t seen the draft?
Ambassador Kim: I’ve seen some previous drafts…
Blendi Fevziu: Not the final one?
Ambassador Kim: I haven’t seen the latest draft…
Blendi Fevziu: That means the amnesty depends on the draft not on the principle, against or in favor, depends on the concrete draft?
Ambassador Kim: Yes, of course.
Blendi Fevziu: And you haven’t seen it
Ambassador Kim: I haven’t seen the latest draft, no.
Blendi Fevziu: Let’s return now to comments about Iran and the relations between Albania and Iran. We did something very strong and very hard to sever diplomatic relations with Iran. According to the information that our government has from different agencies and institutions, Iran has interfered and has shut down our systems and institutions. Are you sure that it has been Iran behind that act?
Ambassador Kim: We’re sure. We’re sure. So, just a few days ago, the FBI and CISA, which is our Cyber Security Agency, issued a report. It’s very detailed, I can send it to you if you want. It’s very detailed and very technical, that demonstrates that the attack originated with Iran. So, you saw in our statements that were issued from the White House, an expression of confidence that the attack came from Iran, that we will stand with Albania, and support Albania’s efforts to build its cyber defenses, and that we will take concrete steps to respond to Iran’s aggression. Shortly after that, the United States Treasury Department issued a set of sanctions against the Ministry of Intelligence and Security of Iran as well as the ministers…
Blendi Fevziu: For this case?
Ambassador Kim: So, it’s related to this case, it’s not just about this case but, yes.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes, yes, related to this case, yes.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. And we will take other… we’ll continue to take more steps to address the threats. When anybody threatens a NATO ally, when anybody threatens Albania, the United States will respond, we will respond.
Blendi Fevziu: But I think, there have been two other alerts about terrorist acts by Iran, a few years ago and the latest one, it was in June, during the MEK conference in Durrës. Do you think Albania, it is in the mirror, let’s say of the terrorist acts from Iran? Does this danger exist?
Ambassador Kim: The Iranians are clearly unhappy about Albania’s decision to take in those who oppose the Iranian regime.
Blendi Fevziu: Political opposition of Tehran.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. And it’s very important that Albania conduct its affairs as it sees fit, without fear of threat from countries like Iran. This is why they’re a pariah around the world because they behave this way. So, we will continue to support Albania, including by working with your experts to build up your cyber defenses and to haunt the threats that may already exist.
Blendi Fevziu: But the problem is I asked also the Prime Minister, the Iranian opposition in Albania, I don’t talk about the numbers because I don’t really know. Now, the problem is they are in our hospitality. They are refugees here to live but not to act politically from Albania. Is there a problem here?
Ambassador Kim: This is something that the Albanian government and the organization will have to deal with.
Blendi Fevziu: It’s not… you don’t have any comment on that way.
Ambassador Kim: I don’t have any additional comments on it.
Blendi Fevziu: Okay, I’m asking you about the former General Director of Police Mr. Nano, he left his office, because of a decision of the government. It was a complicated story. 48 hours, first he left, and then he was forced to leave. After that, you made a comment saying you have worked very well with Mr. Nano. Was this an interference with the government decision?
Ambassador Kim: No, it’s a statement of fact. You will see that we often make these types of statements when somebody that we have worked with very well leaves a job. And, it is true that we appreciate Mr. Nano and his cooperation with us. We felt that he was a good partner for us when he was the head of the Counterterrorism Unit. And then also when he was police chief.
Blendi Fevziu: Was it a surprise for you, Mr. Nano leaving his office?
Ambassador Kim: We weren’t expecting it.
Blendi Fevziu: And then I want to ask you also something about the war in Ukraine. How do you see the role of Albania in this conflict between Ukraine and Russia?
Ambassador Kim: First of all, Albania is on the UN Security Council and therefore, we together, as Security Council members have a special responsibility. But on top of that, the United States and Albania are co-penholders on all Ukraine issues. So that’s a serious leadership role. Albania helped us draft the resolution that was passed overwhelmingly in the UN General Assembly recently, condemning Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, unjustifiable invasion of another country. We have a situation in which a permanent member, one of five permanent members of the Security Council.
Blendi Fevziu: …has invaded another country…
Ambassador Kim: …has violated the most basic UN principle, which is that you cannot force another country to change its borders unilaterally. You cannot do that. And we all have a stake in it. So, Albania was at the forefront of the international response. Albania was also one of the first countries to donate material to Ukraine. So, we’re very proud to be krah për krah, so to speak, with Albania in response to Russia, because even…
Blendi Fevziu: Because President Putin and his entourage always are targeting Albania, about the decision we made or talking about Kosovo. And then because of the war in Ukraine, or because also the problems of COVID and pandemic, people have a strong winter, I’m talking about the supply and also the energy would be. What do you think about that?
Ambassador Kim: it’s going to be a tough winter around the world. There is no doubt about that. So, one of the side effects that we’ve seen from Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, is that we’re seeing food prices rising. Ukraine is one of the main producers and exporters of wheat. And, so, when Russia started making it impossible for Ukraine to export its wheat, prices around the world rose. Now the same thing is happening with energy in Europe, because of gas and oil, oil sources that originate from Russia, into Western Europe. The good thing is that Albania is a few steps ahead of everybody else. And this is how: you may remember that in October of 2020, the United States and Albania signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on Economic Issues. And within a few hours of signing that agreement, there was another agreement dealing with energy issues. So, from that time in late 2020, there are now two major energy projects where American, big American firms are involved. One is the hydropower plant at Skavica. And then there is an LNG port at Vlora. So Skavica would mostly be about optimizing the downriver dams.
Blendi Fevziu: When will it be ready?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t know. But it’s moving along fairly well. Vlora is really strategically important…
Blendi Fevziu: Very strategic.
Ambassador Kim: Very strategic. You know why? Because Albania right now is about 90% dependent on hydro. That means that you’ve got one source of energy, one main source of energy. You have to diversify. And then, on top of that, you know, when the original Vlora project was conceived, it was supposed to be just bringing LNG to Vlora, and then converting the thermal power plant there to be able to run on LNG. And what the experts have concluded is that, actually, it would make more financial sense to expand the project. So now, what we’re looking at is not only bringing in LNG, but now connecting that into the TAP pipeline.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes.
Ambassador Kim: You know, the TAP pipeline?
Blendi Fevziu: Yes…
Ambassador Kim: …running from Azerbaijan through Turkey, Greece, all the way through. Okay, so the full capacity for the TAP pipeline is 20 BCM. The current operational capacity is only 10 BCM. If the Vlora project moves forward and concludes successfully, it will inject five BCM, which is very big,
Blendi Fevziu: Very big, yes.
Ambassador Kim: Very, very big.
Blendi Fevziu: And an alternative to the hydro we have in the north.
Ambassador Kim: It’ll be an alternative and a supplement to hydro, not just for Albania. And this is why it’s strategic, because it will enable Albania to become a critical node for exporting energy and non-Russian energy, in fact, American energy into Western Europe, Italy, Greece, into the Balkans area. So, this is an important project.
Blendi Fevziu: And also, I will now ask you about your relation with the Democratic Party. You are always supporting that there will be one side – still a Democratic Party in the Parliament, and with support of the Parliament, and the other side is the Democratic Party, let’s say, led by Sali Berisha, the problem is that you are supporting this group in the in the parliament. But this group seems to be very weak in the support on the base. It is a problem here you are supporting group of the Democratic Party, but they don’t have a full support in the base and the other side, the group who has more support in the base, they are not supported by you.
Ambassador Kim: I’m not going to …
Blendi Fevziu: It’s a mathematic exam…
Ambassador Kim: It’s not a popularity contest for us. For us, it’s about the rule of law. We meet with Mr. Alibeaj in his capacity as the floor leader and in his capacity as the Acting Chairman of the Democratic Party. I think it’s very important to be clear about the rule of law. You don’t just go with whoever has the most power. That’s lawlessness.
Blendi Fevziu: More supporters…
Ambassador Kim: I think that’s debatable, but in any case, I understand the point that you’re trying to make. For us as an institution, for me as a representative of the United States and of the President, I meet with the person that is recognized by the law. So, I will continue to do that. I can just tell you that at no point, though, will it be possible for me or for any U.S. official to meet with somebody who is designated by the Secretary of State for significant corruption or for undermining democracy. It’s just not going to happen.
Blendi Fevziu: I’m not talking about Mr. Berisha, but also the other people who are supporters who are on his side in the Democratic Party. Do you have relations with those other people?
Ambassador Kim: We talk to a wide variety of individuals.
Blendi Fevziu: I’m asking you also about two problems. It is the problem of the electoral law and the problem of the electoral reform. Do you have any comment on those two?
Ambassador Kim: The ODIHR report that was issued after the election in April, last year, came through with some very clear recommendations, as did the report for the previous election. So, we would like to see all political leaders and lawmakers act on those recommendations.
Blendi Fevziu: What can we do on that Madam Ambassador, we have always had problems in 30 years. One party doesn’t accept the election, mostly, sometimes, yes, but mostly doesn’t accept. What can we do to vote and to believe in the vote?
Ambassador Kim: First of all, I think that this is related to the original problem that we talked about with Russian efforts to undermine democracy. So, you have to put into place measures that will bring greater transparency into the system. The other thing is this: after 31 years, it’s time now to become more mature in the way that we deal with each other. So, I’ll give you an example. In America…
Blendi Fevziu: But this is crazy after 31 years, always
Ambassador Kim: It can take time…
Blendi Fevziu: Always one side does not accept…
Ambassador Kim: So, we have these…you know, Albania is not unique.
Blendi Fevziu: It happens only with us, not Macedonia, not Kosovo, not the other countries.
Ambassador Kim: So, I think that people like you, in fact, have a responsibility as well, to educate the public and to show them that this is not the way in which Albania should be unique. Elections here, sometimes there have been problems. I understand that there were problems in ‘96, for example, but for the most part, the election last year, was one that ODIHR confirmed was credible. So, it’s time to acknowledge that when elections are conducted in accordance with all international standards, the results have to be respected. Beyond the elections in the conduct of politics, it’s really important for political leaders – no matter what party they belong to – to be able to talk to each other and to be able to reach agreements that are in the public interest. Why do I say this? In our first interview, I think Blendi, we talked about my surprise in coming here and discovering that compromise is a dirty word in Albania, and in the political world here. And it shouldn’t be that way. Somebody who belongs to a different party, or who has a different view, may be your opponent on that issue, but they’re not your enemy.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes, an enemy, that’s…
Ambassador Kim: You must be able to sit together and come to an agreement. You remember that, you know, there have been so many periods in Albania’s modern history where one party simply decides: I’m not going to talk to the other side, and they walk out. You know who loses in the end?
Blendi Fevziu: Yeah, absolutely.
Ambassador Kim: It’s the people.
Blendi Fevziu: This is 100 percent true.
Ambassador Kim: It’s the people who lose, and it should not be the case that Albanian political leaders need an outsider, including the American Ambassador, you should not need an outsider to bring you to the same table so that you can talk for the benefit of the Albanian people. So, when parties talk, it doesn’t mean one side has been bought by the other. It doesn’t mean one side is a hostage, and the other one is a hostage taker. It doesn’t mean there’s some crazy conspiracy. It simply means these are political leaders, who are mature, and who are coming together for the purpose of serving the Albanian public who put them in office. That’s all it means.
Blendi Fevziu: I totally agree.
Ambassador Kim: Look at things in Washington, right? Our political leaders have very, very strong disagreements. But they are civil to each other, they will sit next to each other. And nobody says, you know, Nancy Pelosi bought Kevin McCarthy. That’s not the way it goes. Not in a democracy. And that’s not the way it should go.
Blendi Fevziu: But you have 250 years of democracy. We have only 30.
Ambassador Kim: That’s true.
Blendi Fevziu: And on the other hand, returning to the first question I asked. The problem is the illegal financing. buying votes, we have to cut also this practice.
Ambassador Kim: That’s right
Blendi Fevziu: Which is very popular in the election.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. I agree with you.
Blendi Fevziu: And two last questions. First of all, how were the events the 100th anniversary of the diplomatic relations? Are you satisfied?
Ambassador Kim: I am delighted by what we were able to do. So, we did things like a big concert in Skanderbeg Square. And we have had conferences. We did an academic conference this week. We did one last week. We participated in one last week as well. Other organizations have decided to do their own events. And that’s been fantastic as well. But my personal favorite?
Blendi Fevziu: Yes. What was it that you mostly enjoyed?
Ambassador Kim: I liked our bus. I don’t know if you saw that we rented a bus.
Blendi Fevziu: No, I haven’t seen that.
Ambassador Kim: …and we went around the country as a mobile American Corner. And we went up to Koplik.
Blendi Fevziu: Yes.
Ambassador Kim: And, you know, it was just nice to meet with people that we haven’t met before. And to go to places where there is not an American Corner or an American Embassy, and let people know that the United States and the American people love them and we value this relationship and we want to celebrate with them. So, that was really a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
Blendi Fevziu: And you also had a message from President Biden for the relations and a message from former President Bush.
Ambassador Kim: So, this is what I mean, when it comes to the relationship between the United States and Albania, it cuts across political parties for us. Definitely. President Biden is a Democrat and recorded a video message, I’m sure that if he was able to he would have come here personally, but he wanted to do the next best thing, which was to do the video message. And then of course, President George W. Bush, who visited here…
Blendi Fevziu: A former Republican…
Ambassador Kim: A Republican sent his own message expressing his affection and his congratulations. So, this is something that unites us in Washington. I think it’s actually something that unites all Albanians as well, regardless of political party, regardless of whether they’re from Tropoja or from Saranda, whether they’re old or young. I think there is something really unique and special about the U.S.-Albania relationship that brings all of us together. And that for me is so precious.
Blendi Fevziu: Ambassador Kim, how long will your mission be in Albania?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t know. I serve at the pleasure of the President. Normally, we serve three to four years…
Blendi Fevziu: Yes…
Ambassador Kim: …but we’ll see.
Blendi Fevziu: And what should be your, let’s say, next destination? The destination you want, not where the State Department will send you, what you want?
Ambassador Kim: How can I think about any other place when I’m here in Albania?
Blendi Fevziu: You’re still here.
Ambassador Kim: I’m 100% here.
Blendi Fevziu: And I thank you for the interview tonight and hope you will be again in the studio. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you, always a pleasure.