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Address of U.S. Ambassador Joseph Limprecht
(Ambassador introduced by Rector Jani Dode.)
Thank you Rector Dode.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the invitation to address students and guests of the Alexander Xhuvani University of Elbasan. I would like to express my gratitude to the organizers of this event. In particular, Rector Jani Dode and Professor and Parliamentarian Ljublin Dilja. Mayor Hysin Domi also, thank you for joining us this morning.
It is always a pleasure to visit Elbasan. Most of my previous visits concentrated on business and economic matters, involving tours of local industries and consultations with local leaders and business executives. Business and education are inextricably linked. So, I am pleased to be making my first visit to Alexander Xhuvani University today. I am impressed with what I have seen during my brief tour this morning, and with what I have heard about the direction of the university and its educational priorities. I sense a feeling of energy and excitement. I see how the vision of Alexander Xhuvani University is preparing young Albanian students to meet the challenges of Albania and of the world.
For nearly 10 years, the American Embassy has had a close working relationship with this university. We support the educational priorities and development of the university in several different ways, and we look forward to enhancing our collaborative relationship. I was particularly pleased to meet Professor Shefqet Shyti today. Professor Shyti is a Ron Brown Fellow who studied university education management in the United States in 1998 and 1999. Now, three years later, Mr. Shyti is contributing to strengthening the university and to re-building Albania through his work as Professor of English and American History. He is giving back to his students - and to his country - opportunities and experiences that will enhance and hasten Albania’s democratic maturity and prosperity.
Building a strong, stable, secure and prosperous Albania is the challenge that confronts all Albanians today, especially its leaders.
Albania is moving forward. In the past two and one half years, I have witnessed significant progress: Public Order has improved considerably, economic conditions show consistent signs of real growth, and democratic institutions continue to be strengthened. Civil society is taking root. Albania is on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. Relations between the United States and Albania are strong and close and they continue to deepen as the United States seeks steadfast partners in its regional and worldwide initiatives. I want to underscore, once again, the deep appreciation of the American people for Albania’s unwavering support for the U.S.-led global war on terrorism. We value the support and commitment of the Albanian people. The United States will remain alongside of Albania as it continues on the path to democracy.
However, much remains yet to be accomplished in Albania. There is no time for pause.
Continuing on the path to progress and reform is essential. Albania’s progress must be approached with a sense of urgency and a determined, concerted effort by all.
Albania’s political leaders have great responsibility for Albania’s progress. These leaders must make tough, difficult choices in order to move the country forward. Leaders must reflect the trust and mandate of the Albanian people in their decisions and actions. In Tirana and in my extensive travels around the country, I hear tremendous frustration with Albania’s political leadership. Albania’s leaders must face the fact that they have lost the confidence of much of the public. The people of Albania want - and need - to have confidence that their leaders and their institutions are focused on building a strong and prosperous nation, not just on their own personal power and wealth. The people of Albania and the country must come first, above personal or party interests and ahead of personal gain.
The present political situation must be resolved in an effective and decisive manner - - and soon - - before those who are here to help Albania get frustrated, lose interest and go away. The new government must assume the responsibility - and accountability - for addressing fundamental problems that threaten to halt Albania’s progress and stymie the vast potential of the Albania people. Political debate and discourse must be constructive and productive.
I have stated on many occasions that the United States looks forward to working with the Albanian government on issues of mutual concern. As we have consistently stated, we support institutions - - not individuals.
We encourage the governing and opposition coalitions in parliament to establish common ground and to demonstrate mutual trust in order to resolve the issues and challenges that confront Albania.
Let me emphasize that Albania’s problems require Albanian solutions. Albanians themselves must decide how best to address and resolve the problems facing the country. The role of the international community is limited. We are here to help facilitate solutions, but the choices and options must be decided by the Albanians themselves.
I would like to highlight three areas that I believe are of primary importance now for Albania. First is organized crime and trafficking. This issue remains a key concern. The international community supports and funds initiatives that help guide Albania towards achieving tangible progress in combating organized crime and trafficking, particularly of human beings. We, and others in the international community, have coordinated our efforts of assistance. We provide professional advice, extensive training and state-of-the-art equipment, as well as other forms of meaningful support. Our aim is to help Albania achieve its goal of moving from the State Department’s designation as a Tier 3 country - - the worst possible designation - - in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report to that of a Tier 2 country. This is a critical step for Albania, and one that will reflect substantial progress on a major issue of concern to the United States.
In order to achieve Tier 2 status, progress must be measurable. Professional police investigations must be thorough, and must lead to prosecutions and convictions of traffickers and organized criminals.
Investigations must also address the issues of corruption. We encourage progress on this front as well. Organized crime networks which traffic in drugs, weapons, women and children have the potential to be exploited by terrorists who are intent on destroying our democratic way of life.
Secondly, electoral reform must be implemented. Electoral reform is especially crucial for Albania now. In its comprehensive report on last summer’s elections, ODIHR recommended important reforms that would lessen the propensity for manipulation and the contesting of Albania’s elections.
For example, ODIHR stressed the necessity of conducting elections for one day only throughout the country. Each and every reform recommended by ODIHR should be thoroughly reviewed by both the governing and opposition coalitions and implemented as quickly as possible. An electoral code that is based upon international standards and precepts is a prerequisite to stable transparent elections.
Thirdly, we strongly support Albania’s EU and trans-Atlantic integration aspirations. The EU Stabilization and Association Process is a crucial, first test for Albania. For this integration to be successful, however, Albanian leaders need to understand the importance of dealing with one another in a more cooperative, less confrontational manner than they did when they met in Brussels with European Parliament members on January 24.
Albania’s future in the democratic family of nations will depend, in large part, upon the willingness of the governing and opposition coalitions to cooperate on occasion and to be more transparent and less obstructive in their dealings with one another. Of course there will be differences, disagreements and rivalries. That is the nature of politics, which is nothing more that a reflection of human relations. We encourage Albania’s leaders to look at integration from perspectives which minimize differences and maximize commonality and the overall interests of the entire country.
These are not the only crucial issues facing the government. We have heard more frustration with the power crisis than any other issue this winter. Solutions are possible, but the government needs to focus and take fundamental decisions – and then follow through on them as soon as possible. As with other issues, we and others in the international community stand ready to provide support and assistance to Tirana when the right decisions are taken.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views with you. Rector Dode and distinguished colleagues, thank you again for the invitation to visit Alexander Xhuvani University.
I believe we have a few minutes for comments and questions.