On a visit to Albania yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, commended authorities in Tirana for the important steps they have taken to reform their defense establishment. Albania is one of nine countries hopeful of receiving an invitation to join NATO in its second wave of expansion.
Tirana, 9 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, said in Tirana last night that Washington will continue to cooperate closely with Albania, even if it is not asked to join NATO during the next wave of expansion, which is set to be announced at a summit in Prague next month. "I explained to [Albanian] President [Alfred] Moisiu and Prime Minister [Fatos] Nano and the other leaders that the United States, that our president, President [George W.] Bush, has not yet made a decision as to which of the countries we will support [for NATO membership at the Prague summit]. And so, no matter what decision is made at the Prague summit, our commitment to work with Albania continues. And in that sense, as I said before, Prague is not an end, it's a point along the way in an individual country's relationship with NATO," Burns said.
Burns is on a tour of NATO applicant countries ahead of the alliance's Prague summit in November. Albania is among nine countries hopeful of receiving an invitation to join. The other countries are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Albania and Macedonia are not considered to be under serious consideration for NATO membership in this round.
While in Tirana, Burns underlined the reform progress already made by the Albanian armed forces. A 10-year modernization program has been drafted in cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department, which will also observe its implementation. "An example of that progress [that Albania has made in reforms] is demonstrated by the fact that in December of this year, NATO's Partnership for Peace cell in Tirana will be able to close up its shop because, in effect, Albania has graduated from this program. It has fulfilled all the requirements, and we'll move on to other cooperative ventures together," Burns said.
But Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece, was also critical, stressing that the Balkans have common problems to address. "We also raised issues where we believe that further progress can be made. As we have done in Romania and Bulgaria and Macedonia, which we visited in the last three days now, we raised the issue of corruption, which remains a major challenge for the government and society. We discussed the need for greater measures concerning border security and particularly its impact on the drug trade, the narcotics trade, and trafficking in women and children. And, of course, we raised the issue of the need to deal with the massive piles of weaponry and ammunition that remain in this country," Burns said.
Burns praised the support Albania has given to the international antiterrorism campaign, noting the participation of Albanian troops in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.