Albania is preparing for the upcoming visit by US President George W. Bush, scheduled for Sunday (June 10th). Lawmakers have approved legislation to boost cooperation and security, leading up to the visit.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s administration is spending approximately 1m euros to refurbish government buildings, including the Foreign Ministry and other institutions that Bush will visit. Tirana is being decorated with Albanian and US flags to mark the occasion.
Bush will be the first US president to visit Albania, a trip hailed by local leaders as a historic milestone.
“Since Albania’s independence, at the most critical moments of national liberty for Albanians, the United States has played the role of helping to save rights and freedom,” Berisha said.
According to President Alfred Moisiu, the visit carries great symbolism. A superpower, he said, is building reciprocal respect and collaboration with a small country.
“This is the peak of Albanian-US relations,” said Lajlja Pernaska, a member of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “I think this visit will have a good impact on the development of Albania and on EU and NATO integration.”
Her colleague in Parliament, former Foreign Minister Kastriot Islami, said Bush would be bringing “messages regarding Albania’s membership in NATO”.
“The United States, through the Adriatic Charter — a model in which Washington has played a major role — has shown that it supports Albania’s membership in NATO. The visit also carries a message for the Albanian nation, demonstrating that the country is moving towards democracy,” Islami added.
Ahead of the trip, Bush had a message for Albania.
“I want to make sure the Albanian people understand that America knows that you exist and that you’re making difficult choices to cement your free society,” Bush said. “I’m coming as a lover of liberty to a land where people are realising the benefits of liberty.”
In addition to Albania, Bush will be visiting Poland, Italy and Bulgaria after attending the G8 summit in Germany.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton scheduled a visit to Tirana, but it was cancelled. Two US secretaries of state have visited Albania — James Baker in 1991 and Colin Powell in 2003.