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Q: As it has been announced, we have the pleasure to have an interview today with the US Ambassador in Tirana Mr. Jospeh Limprecht. I wish a warm welcome to Pogradec, although this is not your first time. And let us start. This is not your first time in Pogradec, is it?
Ambassador: Thatís true, it is not. But Iím pleased to be on your show.
Q: Do you like the nature of Pogradec or do you like its people because it has been several times you have come to this city.
Ambassador: Well, All of the above I would say. It is a very beautiful place here; we like the opportunity to stay in Pogradec when we come to this region and we come here fairly often because we also go to Korca. Today we went to Voskopoja to inaugurate some repair work on a roof that we were able to get some support for. But weíve also gotten to know a number of people in Pogradec and enjoy seeing our friends too.
Q: Iíd like to start talking about your diplomatic career, which is not at all short. You started it in Washington, and then you went to Germany, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and two years ago, you started here in Albania. Your appointment here in Albania was labeled as ďunaccompanied with your familyĒ and despite this you accepted the appointment. Did you know Albania before and what impressed you at the very beginning?
Ambassador: I knew very little about Albania when I first came here because in fact I had never set foot in any of the Balkan countries, not even Greece. But I came here shortly after the crisis in Kosovo was over and what impressed me more than anything at first was how important this region was to our on security issues and how much there was to be done here. And I accepted the assignment because it was such a tremendous challenge. And one of the biggest successes was getting my wife here after ten months. So sheís been here for almost a year and a half now.
Q: Iíd like to start with politics now, since it is a favorite topics for all Albanians. You have assisted in the last election campaigns, the local ones and the general parliamentary ones. What did you notice regarding the campaigns in general and about the voting process?
Ambassador: What we saw more than anything else that impressed us at first on both the campaigns and the voting process in the local elections last year was how serious people were about exercising their right to vote. I donít pretend to be an expert on the elections, nor are any of the people in my Embassy, and thatís why we look to the people who undertake electionsí observation from ODIHR and the Council of Europe to inspect the elections closely and make the real decisions about them. And thatís why we support the conclusions they come up with. And that is not just us in the American Embassy, but also all of the Western embassies who are involved in the elections process here and that have an interest in Albaniaís progress towards democratization and towards integration with Europe. We meet regularly and we work very closely with the election observers when they come. And when they issue statements about the elections weíve been very, very clear about our full support for what theyíve done. Of course they go home after the elections, and so itís the job of those of us who are diplomatic representatives here in Tirana to work with the political leadership in all of the parties to work with the government to make sure their recommendations get implemented as quickly as possible.
Q: Following the first round of parliamentary elections, you issued a positive declaration to the media. Meanwhile, when the entire election process was completed you did not issue any declaration at all. Why was that?
Ambassador: Well, we didnít really issue any statements about the elections from the American Embassy. The statements that were issued were issued by the ODHIR elections monitors who were here and we made it very clear that we supported those initial declarations when they were made, and then later, when they came out with first preliminary reports and then final reports we made it very clear that we supported them as well. And that includes both the statements on one side that these were according to the elections observers that these were the best elections Albania has had and also the statements on the other side that there were serious problems that needed to be looked into and repaired.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, we watch you very often on TV in several inauguration events, and often beside high officials. Is this part of your diplomatic duties or more of personal desire of yours to be integrated into the Albanian way of life?
Ambassador: Well it has always been my desire and I think accomplishment in my diplomatic missions to learn as much about and become as much a part of Ė as close to the society that Iím working with as possible. Everywhere else, but here especially, we think itís important to make it clear to Albania that the United States is involved in the region and is involved in Albania and we want Albanians to understand what our interests are and how we look to building a better relationship with Albania over time what our responsibilities are and what the government and the people of Albaniaís responsibilities are as well. So given that our policy is that we want very much to see stability take placeódemocratic development and stability in Albania is really the area where Albania can contribute the most to what we are looking for in terms of stability in all of the Balkans. So definitely one of the reasons that I am as visible as I am is to demonstrate that kind of relationship to Albania in a personal manner. But Iím only the tip of the iceberg in a sense. Because when you see me on TV there are really another 45 Americans, plus a 100 Albanians in my Embassy who are working to support what weíre doing.
Q: What are your relations with Albanian politicians, be that members of parliament or the opposition?
Ambassador: Well our relations are those of interest and respect. And thatís something that comes in any country--- whether itís a fully democratic one or a country that is moving towards democracy. We think itís important that the voices of all the people of the country be heard and thatís the job of the parties to do. And consequently we make it our job to be in touch with all of the political parties so we know what the people are thinking. But itís also important that they know what the US government is thinking and itís our job to convey that to them as well.
Q: Iíd like to stop at this issue you just mentioned. Usually every step that is undertaken in Albanian politics is justified with the approval or with the encouragement of Western international institutions. Especially in the most delicate issues, it is enough to make public a meeting with the US Ambassador, for example, in order to justify every action or claims. And this serves almost as a passport to keep going in that direction. What is your role and influence in the Albanian politics?
Ambassador: Well I would say, as you said, that it is claimed by everyone that I support them. There are a couple of problems with this. One is that I donít represent myself personally when I speak to politicians or the government, Iím representing the government of the United States and its policies.
Q: And how do you feel about that?
Ambassador: Itís part of life in Albania. A second point thatís very important to make is that when I meet with politicians, be it publicly or privately, I never talk afterwards about what our conversations were about. So when people say that the American Ambassador said this and the American Ambassador said that I would be very careful. When we have a message to give to the people of Albania we make it very clear what out position is either with statements or with my comments to the press. And its important to make one point in this whole context and that is that we are not picking favorites, we are not supporting one side or another, we are supporting the process, and that means the process towards democracy and the process towards integration with Western institutions.
Q: Remaining in the arena of politics, the Union for Democratic Victory has decided not to enter parliament. Meanwhile, two legality Party MPs did such a thing and one of which is from Pogradec city. How do you regard this decision?
Ambassador: We have made the point a number of times from the very beginning along with the people of ODIHR who monitored the elections, that we think that all of the parties should be in the parliament. We have said this because we think that the parties which stay out of the parliament only harm themselves. They also harm the interests of the people who voted for them, because if I vote for someone I want them to be in parliament representing whatever it is that I want from parliament. So, we think that it is very much in the interests of those who are in opposition, and if I might say so we think that a strong opposition is very important in Albania Ė we think it is very much in their interest to be in parliament. We know there were serious deficiencies in the elections. But we think the answer for the future of Albania is to be in the parliament and to work on the changes that need to be made in the electoral process, so that the next elections would be better. Meantime, there are many internal problems and foreign policy issues in Albania, which need to be discussed and dealt with by parliament, including issues involving terrorism. And we looked to everybody to be involved in parliament dealing with those issues. One of the things that President Bush said after the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, was that ďthese attacks really changed the world in many ways.Ē We know we have tremendous support and backing from the people and government and all of the parties in Albania. That support will be carried out the fullest when all of the parties are in parliament working on these and other issues.
Q: My last question regarding Albanian politics. How do you consider the clash between Nano and Meta, something unseen and unprecedented in Albania
Ambassador: It is in Albaniaís interest for there to be greater cooperation, understanding and commitment to the democratic process both within the parties and among the parties in their relations with one another, but also inside the parties. And this goes back to the issues I mentioned earlier where the USG looks very much to one of Albaniaís greatest contribution to regional stability as its own internal stability. This kind of stability means the maintenance of public order but it also means going after additional internal security issues such as organized crime and corruption which I have talked about a number of times. We and other countries which are Friends of Albania want to work with Albania and so on, are prepared to work with the Albanian government and people to take steps to take down the leaders of organized criminal activities and to get handle on trafficking. This was an important issue even before September 11. It is an even more important issue after September 11, because of the kind of ties that exist between trafficking networks and terrorist organizations. What this means is we look to all of the politicians including the leaders of SP to find way to work together so that there can be a strong and stable Albanian government that can move forward and work with us in these errands. This kind of cooperation will also contribute significantly to Albaniaís ability to integrate into European and other western international organizations and Euro-Atlantic structures.
Q: Meanwhile, the US has helped not only the Albanians of Albania, but also the Macedonian Albanians. Last week, the Ohrid Agreement was ratified in the parliament. A very important role was played in Kosovo where yesterday the parliamentary elections were conducted. So far, we could say that the work of the USG has gone along pretty well. And this gives a sense of assurance for the security in the Balkans. Can we say that once the US decides to enter into an issue, they will achieve their final goal?
Ambassador: There is no such thing as a final goal in foreign affairs. And thatís a product of human nature I think. And the fact that people find things to have conflicts over. Somebody named Francis Fukuyama used to work for the State Department when I did a few years ago, wrote a book a few years ago called, The End of History based upon the premise that with the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe there would be no more great problems in the world. I think what we saw with the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the Ď90s and then the terrorist attacks of recent years show that that is not the case. What I think we have learned is that in the Balkans in particular, the Americans, the Europeans and people in the region of good will and governments in the region which really want to contribute to stability have learned how to work together rather than working against each-other. To help people get away from old ways of thinking which are based upon looking backwards into history and remember the grievances of the past. It is important never to forget history. But it is equally important to look for ways of not repeating the mistakes of the past. And that is what we have been trying to do in the region and also elsewhere. And I think people have learned a lot from whatís happened in the last 12 years. I can say that I was serving in West Berlin from 1985-1988 and if anybody had said to me that in the course of my career I would serve in Tashken, Uzbekistan and than later in Tirana, Albania as Ambassador I would have said, ďthey are insane.Ē But look whatís happened in only 13 years.
Q: And I would like to touch on the last issue, which is the fight on terrorism. On September 11, we witnessed the most spectacular attack against the US on NY and Washington, the heart of the US. And in fact these attacks created a sense of insecurity throughout the world, because it seemed as if the myth of America had collapsed. How did you feel as an American citizen?
Ambassador: Determined Ö determined to do what President Bush said that the government would do, which is to find the people who did it and as he said either bring them to justice or bring justice to them. Right now the focus is on what is happening in Afghanistan. But I said earlier in the interview that I think as President Bush said ďthe world did really change after September 11.Ē And in the long run, probably even more important to what is happening in Afghanistan is the level of cooperation we are seeing amongst the countries across the board worldwide to deal with terrorism. We see this in the cooperation between America and Russia. We see it in the Balkans and wee see it elsewhere as well. And people are beginning to realize that as we said they are either on one side or the other. And being on the side of terrorism is really to be on the side of nihilism.
Q: And the tactic that was followed by the US was the war on diplomatic and military grounds. And a very interesting move was the alliance with Russia, which was not expected. Following 44 days of war in Afghanistan, the Talibans have not yet completely left the country and there are no traces of bin Laden. Does it mean this will be a long war?
Ambassador: I donít think anybody knows how long the war on Afghanistan will last. And Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has made that very clear ďwe simply donít know.Ē The war on terrorism I think will be long-lasting, because as one group of terrorists is broken up another group sometimes will come back to haunt you. But what this means is not necessarily longer military action, but certainly greater cooperation in diplomatic programs, greater cooperation in the intelligence areas, greater cooperation across the board in law enforcement to prevent the terrorists from having the freedom that they had to act before September 11. This brings out some complicated questions of involving civil liberties. Questions of how far can you go in limiting peopleís liberties in order to control terrorism. And these are issues that every democracy is dealing with today discussing them in the parliament, discussing them in the press and elsewhere.
Q: Meanwhile, following September 11, by proposal of the USG a high state of alert was declared in all diplomatic posts around the world. Did you and your staff feel endangered in Tirana?
Ambassador: No, we did not.
Q: Do you believe what has been written in Albanian media that bin Laden has been two times in Albania and that he has set up networks or groups?
Ambassador: I canít say specifically that he has not been. What I can say is I have seen no evidence he has been in Albania. I have seen only press speculations that I donít think that is evidence.
Q: I would like to conclude the conversation with a question from your private life?
Q: Mrs. Limprecht is the leader of the International Womenís Group in Tirana. Meanwhile, she has earned her Ph.D. in American Literature and she says she is feeling good in Albania. At least this is what she has declared. Does Mrs. Limprecht act as an advisor for you?
Ambassador: Yes. There is one thing that anybody who is married knows what their husband and wife does. And that is when you start to think you are too important, she will remind you that you are not. And it is very good for me to have my wife with me in Tirana. We have been married for more than 32 years and we are much happier of being together than apart.
Q: Would you like your daughters to follow your footsteps, to carry out the same career that you have so far?
Ambassador: If they wanted to, that would be fine with me, but they have their own lives and careers and we have raised them to be independent and make their own decisions and that is what they do. They live in the US and have their own independent career and they are happy. And for all of us that is the most important thing.
Q: How does Mr. Limprecht feel as a husband and as a father? Have you fulfilled all your obligations?
Ambassador: Iím not sure to answer that (Ölaughing). I think the answer is yes.
Q: And probably we will have to ask Mrs. Limprecht.
Ambassador: Probably you will. You should ask her rather than me.
Q: I donít know if you could reveal the happiest moment you have had in Albania and the most troublesome experience you have had in Albania.
Ambassador: I will tell you the happiest moment and that is when my wife came on July 22, 2000. Excuse July 23, a day after my birthday. And I canít really think of unhappy times, here, really.
Q: If we would go back in time, would you accept again your mandate to come and work in Albania?
Q: Thank you Mr. Ambassador for having accepted to have this exclusive interview for SOT 7 TV Channel.
Ambassador: Thank you. The pleasure is mine.