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Albania: Rumsfeld Says U.S. Looks Forward To Closer Military Cooperation

The United States and Albania are set to increase military cooperation after a meeting between top Albanian government officials and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Albania is hoping that will mean continued U.S. support for its bid to join NATO.

Tirana, 11 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met yesterday with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and other top government officials during a brief visit to Tirana.

Rumsfeld said both countries share an interest in closer military cooperation and that Washington hopes to see Albania taking faster steps toward NATO integration.

"Today, we talked of Albania's interest in the membership action plan for NATO and our joint interest in having Albania proceed along the path towards full NATO membership over the years ahead. And in the meantime, the United States looks forward to working closely on a bilateral basis with cooperative military-to-military relationships as we worked toward that end," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld also met yesterday with Prime Minister Fatos Nano and Defense Minister Pandeli Majko. He was expected to thank them for their support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Albania is hoping for continued U.S. support in its bid to join NATO, and is offering to host one or more U.S. military bases.

But Rumsfeld seemed to quash reports in the domestic media that the United States is already finalizing plans to establish one of those bases in Albania.

"We discussed the possibility of exercises and training cooperation, but we did not get in to any detailed discussions beyond that," he said.

But the Albanian chief of the general staff, Brigadier General Pellumb Qazimi, was not as categorical in his statement.

"When we talk of U.S. military bases, this is something already heard by the public. The political levels of state administration, according to their discussions, will be able to achieve a more consolidated concept and probably someday will reach a decision," Qazimi said.

For his part, Majko expressed Albania's interest in greater cooperation between the two countries.

"It is important that both armed forces of our countries are exercising programs of a very special and confidential nature, like the most recent training that took place in Albania with 1,500 American troops. We will have other training in the future, and I think that this cooperation will open new perspectives of different kinds, as well," Majko said

Nano said Albania can contribute to maintaining stability in the western Balkans.

"All this [meeting] took place within a distinguished political context, in the framework of strengthening regional stability and security, where Albania plays a crucial role, in the context of overcoming the weaknesses the situation presents in the region, especially in Kosovo and Bosnia, including the Serbia-Montenegro axis," Prime Minister Nano said.

Albania recently signed the so-called Article 98 agreement with the United States. According to the document, Albania agrees not to hand over any U.S. citizen indicted by the newly established International Criminal Court without Washington's prior consent.

Yesterday, Nano stressed that this would help facilitate implementation of the Adriatic Charter. In early May, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia signed the U.S.-Adriatic Charter, an initiative designed to help the three nations achieve eventual full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.