US Secretary of State Blinken bolsters Albania ties amid regional stability concerns

US Secretary of State Blinken bolsters Albania ties amid regional stability concerns
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) with Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania, a key US ally and Nato member in the Western Balkan region. / US State Department
By bne IntelliNews February 16, 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Albania on February 15 to reaffirm relations with a key partner in the region and assure Western Balkan countries of Washington’s support for their integration into the European Union.

The US strongly supports integration into the EU for Albania, a Nato member and staunch ally in the region, as well as other Western Balkan countries. There have been heightened fears of instability in the Western Balkans since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Blinken said he was in Tirana on his first visit as secretary of state to Albania "because this partnership between our two countries is stronger than it has ever been”.

During his visit, Blinken met with top officials and spoke of the importance of a peaceful future for the Western Balkans. 

“We cannot have a repeat of what is likely, what we have seen and what so many people experienced in the 1990s," Blinken said at a news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. 

"For this reason, we are committed to supporting all efforts to advance the integration of the countries of the Western Balkans with each other and with Europe.” 

Rama told the press conference that Blinken’s one-day visit was a “very important sign of friendship”. 

He specifically thanked the US secretary of state for Washington’s “continuous, important and useful support” for Albania's EU accession process. 

“[H]e does not fail to underline the need to further push this process of integration of Albania and the Western Balkans into the EU as a strategic interest of the United States,” Rama added, according to an Albanian government statement. 

The visit coincided with the end of Albania's mission in the Security Council as a temporary member, and took place shortly before Albania is due to host an international summit on Ukraine. 

“Albania has been a very strong supporter of Ukraine since day one. In fact, she was the first to raise her hand to help him. It was one of the first countries to send military aid to Ukraine when it faced Russian aggression,” said Blinken. 

He also spoke of Albania’s “significant contributions” during its 15 years as a Nato member. “Albanian troops help maintain peace in Kosovo, to curb Russia's aggression on Nato's eastern flank.”

In March, Albania is due to inaugurate a Nato air base in Kucovo.

Commenting on regional issues in the Western Balkans, Blinken stressed the importance of EU-facilitated negotiations to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia. He said the US is committed to supporting both countries as they pursue dialogue. 

The United States and the EU have voiced concerns over Kosovo’s recent ban on the dinar as currency in its Serb-majority municipalities.

“Regarding Kosovo and Serbia specifically, EU-facilitated dialogue is the right and even the only right path and we are committed to doing everything we can to support both countries, as they traverse this path,” the US top diplomat said. 

“But also, I want to congratulate the role of Albania, which has been a force for regional stability,” 

On domestic issues in Albania, Blinken said he had talked with Rama on continuing judicial reforms. “Mr. Prime Minister and I have also discussed how to continue to make Albania's most democratic institutions more accountable to Albanian citizens because the justice reform in Albania has not been simple,” he said. However, he praised progress so far. 

A memorandum of understanding on countering disinformation was signed on February 15 by Blinken and Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Igli Hasani.

“[O]ur democracies, both of which actually face disinformation and this means bringing division and eroding trust in our institutions and for that reason we have signed the memorandum of understanding and this memorandum will help the US and Albania to be able to develop a common approach to combat dangerous distortions and lies and also to build an ecosystem which is sustainable,” Blinken told the press conference. 

Under a separate agreement also signed on February 15, the number of Albanians studying in the US under the Fulbright programme will be doubled. 

In the economic sphere, Blinken pointed out that US investments in Albania have tripled since 2019. 

“[T]his will continue and the business climate will improve. And in fact we see how there is great potential to diversify Albanian energy sources to also help our shared planet and create inclusive economic growth for all, through assistance in hydro, wind and solar,” he said. 

During his visit, Blinken expressed gratitude to Albania for its "extraordinary generosity” towards Afghan evacuees following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Albania was the first country to host about 3,200 fleeing Afghans before they moved for final settlement in the United States. 

Following his one-day visit to Tirana, Blinken will travel to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference as part of the US delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris.