US President George W. Bush’s visit to Albania was an “historic day, the culminating event for relations between Albania and the United States”, according to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.“I want to assure Mr. Bush that Albania will always be a proud ally of the United States, ready to give its support when it is needed. Our country now belongs to a pluralist system and is developing,” he said during a joint press conference with Bush on Sunday (June 10th).
“We are determined to take any decision, pass any law and undertake any reform to make Albania appropriate to receive the invitation to join the Western military alliance,” he said.
Bush’s one-day visit was the first by a sitting president of the United States. He brought a message of support for Albania’s aspirations to join NATO, and made it clear that Washington backs independence as the outcome of the Kosovo status process.
At his press conference with Berisha, Bush began by greeting his audience in Albanian. He congratulated the country for the reforms it has implemented so far, and called for further progress.
“The United States is dedicated to supporting Albania on its way towards integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures,” Bush said. “We would like to see more political and military reforms. All the politicians have to work together to fulfill the standards.”
On Kosovo, Bush said he wished to “clarify two points. Firstly, we need progress in the negotiations for the status and, secondly, the final result is independence of Kosovo.”
“Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say ‘Enough’s enough. Kosovo’s independent’,” he added.
He also called on the Albanian government to help maintain calm and peace in the province, which has been under UN administration since 1999.
During his visit, Bush also had lunch with the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, the three members of the Adriatic Charter, and later walked with them through central Tirana.
Bush reiterated Washington’s support for efforts by the three countries to obtain NATO membership invitations at the Alliance’s 2008 summit in Bucharest. However, he also stressed the need to complete the required political and defence reforms.
His visit was hailed in Albania as a landmark occasion. Crowds welcomed him and First Lady Laura Bush as they were escorted from Tirana’s international airport to the heart of the capital for talks with Berisha and President Alfred Moisiu.
The city’s streets were cleaned, US flags were draped over buildings and a commemorative set of stamps was issued for the occasion.
Huge banners and billboards proclaimed “Proud to be Partners” and “President Bush in Albania Making History”. Red-white-and-blue paper top hats were passed out to well-wishers. Authorities renamed a street in front of parliament in Bush’s honour, and Moisiu awarded his US counterpart with the Order of the Albanian Flag.
During the visit, Bush greeted Albanian troops who have served in Afghanistan. The country recently decided to triple its deployment there to 140 troops. It also has about 120 troops in Iraq — a presence that Moisiu says will not end as long as the United States is engaged there.
First Lady Laura Bush’s agenda included visits to Tirana’s main maternity ward and an orphanage supported by the US government. The president and first lady also made a stop at the town of Fushe Kruja, where hundreds of people awaited his arrival. Breaching the tight security measures, Bush began greeting the citizens and was warmly welcomed by them in turn.