Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Travel to Tirana, Albania
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You guys ready?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: All right, everybody?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right, so this is on background, Senior State Department official. And our senior State Department official will have some brief opening remarks just to kind of walk you through the stop in Albania and what we’re doing, why we’re going, and then we’ll have a little time for some questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Well, thanks, everybody. It is Valentine’s morning in Tirana. We will be there for about four hours. Here is the schedule. Upon landing, the Secretary will have some time with Foreign Minister Bushati and then he’ll have his main meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama. The foreign minister will also be in that meeting. They will then come out and do press statements. And then we will go see the opposition Democratic Party Chairman Basha and some of his opposition parliamentarians.
QUESTION: Is that the name of the party, the Democratic Party?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, Democratic Party. And then we will have a roundtable with some of the civil society activists in Tirana, who we work with on issues like rule of law, crime and corruption, LGBT, women’s rights. And then we will get back on the plane and head for Washington and on to Sunnylands.
Why Albania now? We had hoped to go in December when the Secretary went to Belgrade for the OSCE and had time for a quick stop in Kosovo. We got squeezed on time then, so this is a makeup.
As you know, Albania is a NATO ally not yet in the EU, working hard to get to the next step on its EU accession. They are also strong contributors to the C-ISIL coalition. They’re giving lots of excess ammunition to the Peshmerga. They also work with us in Afghanistan.
They are regional heavyweights in the countering violent extremism space. They’ve worked very hard to strengthen their own ability to stop foreign fighters, Albanians going off and fighting in Syria and Iraq – they’ve been quite successful over the last year with that and they’re trying to export some of the strategies that they have used to other countries in the Balkan region, including the work that they’re doing in communities to make common cause between parents, educators, law enforcement, local imams, et cetera, to make sure that they know what influences young people are receiving. So we work very closely with them on all of that.
The biggest challenge in Albania, as you know, on the road to the EU and in terms of growth has been persistent problems of crime, corruption, rule of law. They are at a particular moment now in addressing those things. They had good success after a pretty grinding process last year dealing with criminality in politics. They had folks in both of the big parties, folks in parliament, who were accused of criminality and not paying any price in politics; they’ve overcome that.
And now they are working on a big package of judicial reform, stuff to strengthen their legal system, et cetera. So there is a package on the table that president – that Prime Minister Rama’s party has put forward. They’re in negotiations with the big opposition party, which is one of the reasons why we’re doing this the way we are, so that the Secretary can reinforce the message that this particular package of legislation is part of cleaning up Albania, not only so that it can make its case to the EU but also to improve the climate for investment.
We’ll also talk about energy security and a whole bunch of other issues while we’re there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, thank you. We’ll take some quick questions.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. In any of the meetings, is the Secretary going to meet with the Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta? I can give you the second question also. As far as the justice reforms are concerned, what is the U.S. role in supporting these reforms? The U.S. has been – is, or my understanding is -- is or will provide some kind of assistance to help with this process?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So I don’t believe that Speaker Meta is participating tomorrow. We have done all kinds of work over the medium term with Albania, but with regard to this package of legislation, we gave concrete advice in terms of drafting of the legislation, in terms of balance. We are helping them to do things like get expert advice from Council of Europe, et cetera. So it’s very much a project that we’ve worked on together. Some of the structures that this will strengthen are things that they have long wanted to replicate from the U.S. system. So for example, it would create an FBI-like investigative structure that they don’t actually have now. It would bring the judicial sector closer in line with both European and U.S. norms and builds on a lot of the advice they’ve had from us and they’ve had from Europe over the last couple of years.
QUESTION: Could you – King Abdullah in – not for this first time in his speech yesterday spoke about the threat of Islamic extremism in the Balkans.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit just in general terms about the Balkans and Albania as to how big a threat you see this being and what anybody’s doing about it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So the Balkans is ripe with all of the symptoms that often breed foreign fighters, jihadism, et cetera. So weak economies, high levels of unemployment, even higher levels of youth unemployment, relatively, in some cases, new discovery of different forms of Islam beyond the traditional, relatively secular experience, that some of these Muslim Balkan countries historically had in the communist era. And so – and foreign imams, rather than home-grown imams, who sometimes come in with their own agenda.
So all of those things have led to a real danger of recruitment. There have been relatively high numbers per capita of foreign fighters from Kosovo, from Bosnia. Albania’s had a problem as well. So Prime Minister Rama in particular has been a real leader in the region, not just in tackling these problems in Albania but in pulling together other regional leaders. He – they hosted a conference last year of regional leaders that aimed to strengthen intelligence sharing, to compare best practices in terms of working with communities, CVE issues, and on the employment side.
So this is something that Albania is trying to lead in nationally. They’ve already had some success, as I said – strengthening law enforcement, strengthening foreign finance rules, these kinds of things, and is also trying to work with its neighbors on.