Albania has signed an agreement with the United States to exempt Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The deal commits Albania not to hand over U.S. citizens to the newly established tribunal without Washington's consent. Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano called the signing in the "mainstream interest of the country's future."
Tirana, 6 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said he was moved to sign the so-called Article 98 agreement with Washington by the chance to reaffirm on behalf of the Albanian people the strategic partnership Tirana has pledged in its relations with the United States.
According to the document, the Albanian government agrees not to hand over any U.S. citizen indicted by the newly established International Criminal Court (ICC) without Washington's prior consent. Tirana had previously signed the Rome Treaty that created the ICC, the world's first permanent court set up to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Nano said Friday's (2 May) signing with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the "mainstream interest of the country's future." "It's a further step to strengthening the strategic partnership with the United States, but in the meantime, a new step towards Europe and Euro-Atlantic standards and institutions," Nano said. Powell thanked Albania, saying the agreement shows the close relationship between the two countries, a relationship that, he said, "will grow even closer in the months and years ahead."
Washington opposes the ICC on the grounds that it could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions against U.S. citizens. It has signed similar immunity deals with 31 other nations. Romania is the only other European nation to sign the Article 98 agreement.
Powell -- the third U.S. secretary of state to visit Tirana since 1990 -- also underscored the importance the United States places on speeding up reforms in Albania as it moves toward closer NATO and European integration.
"Stay with it. Keep pressing ahead. Keep pressing ahead with political reform, with economic reform, with putting your society, your country on the basis of the rule of law and you will find that you have many friend that are willing to help you," Powell said.
Nano said his government is fully committed to strong domestic reforms. "So the best foreign policy we could share with the United States and other global partners is a strong domestic policy oriented to Euro-Atlantic reform. We agreed that we should continue stepping up the fight against corruption and organized crime," Nano said.
Last October, Doris Pack, the chairwoman of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with the Countries of Southeast Europe, warned Balkan countries that the signing of such bilateral agreements with the United States could hinder progress toward stabilization and association agreements with the European Union.
U.S. officials have replied by saying that Washington and Europe share the same vision of peace and stability. "I have seen the Cold War come to an end, and I've seen the Iron Curtain go away, and I have seen the integration of Europe into a new Europe. The piece that still remains to be done is here in Southeast Europe," Powell said. During Powell's visit, Albania also signed, along with Croatia and Macedonia, the U.S.-Adriatic Charter, an initiative that is designed to help the three nations achieve eventual full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. The U.S.-Adriatic Charter was proposed by the presidents of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia to U.S. President George W. Bush at the NATO summit in Prague last November after the three countries failed to join the alliance.
The three Balkan partners consider the charter a way to avoid isolation in a new integrated Europe.