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Council of American Ambassadors: The United States must remain engaged in the Western Balkans

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Council of American Ambassadors: The United States must remain engaged in

The Council of American Ambassadors recently released a report after the fact-finding visit to Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia.

In an interview with Voice of America, Ambassador Philip Hughes, representative of this group of lay ambassadors, says that these three Balkan states have made extraordinary progress, but that they continue to face challenges. challenges of political interference from their neighbors. their own or, in the case of Albania, crime, corruption and the absence of real democracy.

Mr. Hughes also discussed the United States’ decision to declare Albania’s former president, Sali Berisha, persona non grata.

Voice of America: The Council of American Ambassadors was on a fact-finding visit to Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia. What are your findings?

Philippe Hughes: We have been deeply impressed by the progress made by North Macedonia and Kosovo since declaring their independence and by the progress made by Albania since the overthrow of the brutal regime of Enver Hoxha and its rebirth as a state democratic. At the same time, we were impressed by the great influence of neighbors on the politics of these three countries – the great role that Serbia plays in the political scene of Kosovo, the great role that Bulgaria plays in the political scene of North Macedonia and Albania which, as we understand, has a constitutional obligation to ensure the well-being of Albanians outside its borders. We have been surprised by the aspiration of these states to become full participants in the Euro-Atlantic community and by the progress they have made towards achieving these goals. At the same time, in each case they face obstacles to integration into the EU and, in the case of Kosovo, into NATO. In the case of Albania, the problems of corruption and crime, on the one hand, and the problems related to a true democratic government, on the other hand, are obstacles caused by the Albanian political class itself and that this country must overcome.

VOA: Faced with these challenges, how should U.S. policymakers engage with the region?

Philippe Hughes: We must try to continue close dialogue with all parties in the region and, of course, maintain the presence of American forces there. We visited Camp Bondsteel and are deeply impressed by the professionalism of our military and the contribution they make to the region… We urge the Albanian government to continue its efforts to overcome the two challenges I mentioned. It is difficult for a government that enjoys the benefits of Prime Minister Rama’s government, the benefits created by the Democratic Party’s boycott of the previous elections, and occupies such an electorally dominant position, to promote genuine democratic competition and give space to the other party. The absence of real democratic competition will be transformed into an obstacle for Albania by those who are reluctant to accept the country into the European Union for various reasons and they should not be given any other reasons.

Voice of America: One of the controversial issues of recent years is the US government’s decision to declare former Albanian President Sali Berisha persona non grata. In the report, judge this decision unfair. Can you explain why?

Philippe Hughes: What you’re saying is a somewhat misinterpretation of what we’re trying to say in the report. It is difficult to judge Sali Berisha’s case because we do not have access to the facts. We do not know what evidence was presented to the State Department, or what evidence Secretary Blinken had when he made this decision. What we’re trying to say in our report, what we’re trying to emphasize, is that this may be a case where one of our laws is being applied too broadly, without the appropriate attention of Congress, which leads to undesirable consequences. This situation is contrary to our legal traditions in the United States, where people should have access to the evidence against them, in order to have the opportunity to refute the evidence and argue in their own defense. And this is not possible with the way these regulations on advertisements are written (non grata). What we’ve been trying to point out is that we’re dealing with something that goes against American legal traditions and that may be worth looking at. Maybe it was unfair, I don’t know, because I don’t know the facts about Sali Berisha’s case. But it is certain that he does not have access to the facts and did not have the opportunity to defend himself from the announcement of the decision nor to argue in his own defense. That’s not how we do it legally, generally in the United States, although of course it’s a foreign national.

Voice of America: The announcement, however, relies on an act of Congress, as a political tool to fight corruption, and public determinations began in 2018 with prosecutor Adriatik Llalla. I want to ask you about the timing of this decision, because you say it’s the decision of President Biden’s administration, of Secretary Blinken. Could the procedure have been launched by the previous administration?

Philippe Hughes: The US government, before the election of President Biden in 2020, may have had evidence or data from Albania, I don’t know. The embassy was willing to meet with us, but they did not give us any information, they did not discuss any of the important facts that led to the decision. So I don’t know when the U.S. government was first able to obtain the information that might have led to Secretary Blinken’s decision. All discussions focused on decisions made under President Biden’s administration.

VOA: And finally, how important is the Balkan region?

Philippe Hughes: I think this remains very important, because it is a region which is making democratic and economic progress. I hope that one day Kosovo will cross the threshold and join not only the EU, but also NATO to complete the alliance’s presence in this part of the world. But in my experience, the United States often faces urgent issues, which cause delays in addressing other important issues. During the 1990s, conflicts in the Balkans were immediate crises. This is no longer the case today, but they could again become part of an immediate crisis if the conflict in Ukraine ends badly for Ukrainians, or if Russia continues its aggression or, in the extreme case, intends test Article 5 of the NATO treaty, in an attempt to break up the alliance. Therefore, this region should receive constant political attention and priority from the United States./ VOA


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