Rumsfeld Discusses NATO Membership With Albanians
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
TIRANA, Albania, June 10, 2003 American and Albanian defense officials discussed the Balkan nation's desire to become a full-fledged member of NATO and the war on terrorism during meetings here today.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also thanked Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko and the rest of his government for their help in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"The whole Albanian population in the region considers the United States of America a strategic ally," Majko said through a translator during a press conference at the Tirana airport. "In hot areas of the globe where (the war on terror) is being fought for peace and democracy, Albania is carrying its duty there."
Rumsfeld said the United States appreciates Albania's contributions to the war against terror. "We particularly appreciate and value the assistance in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq," Rumsfeld said. "Albania also stepped forward and signed the Vilnius 10 letter, which came at a time that was important. We recognize that and appreciate it as well."
Defense officials said the Vilnius 10 letter was important because it signaled to the world that there was support for taking on Saddam Hussein. The letter came out before the United Nations turned down a U.S. proposal to use force against Iraq.
Albanian forces are part of the International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul, Afghanistan. "The work that is being done in Afghanistan is important and the participation in the ISAF is something that is valuable and appreciated by the Afghan people," Rumsfeld said.
Albanian forces are also in Mosul, Iraq, under the operational control of the 101st Airborne Division, Majko said.
U.S. embassy officials said the fact that most Albanians are Muslims has helped the Albanian forces with the Muslim populations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Albania's desire to be part of NATO was at the center of discussions. An Albanian officer said that the November invitation to Slovenia to be a part of NATO was seen as an encouraging sign in Albania. He said Slovenia's military is small and professional. "We can achieve this too," he said.
The United States will continue to help Albania fulfill the requirements of NATO's Membership Action Plan. In the meantime, Albania and the United States will continue bilateral ties and continue robust military-to-military ties.
Majko pointed to the recently completed exercise that Albanian forces and 1,500 U.S. Marines held in Albania as an example of the type of progress he would like to make. He said Albanian participation in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the continuing series of exercises will "open new perspectives of different kinds" for both countries.
Majko said the operations and exercises take the relationship into new territory. "We're no longer discussing the matter as theory or as the will of the politicians," he said. "The military experts are doing an excellent job. There are many American citizens at work at the Albanian Ministry of Defense. Such an efficient cooperation with such a vision will yield results in the future.
"The United States of America stood on the side of the Albanians in 1999 when it was a matter of the existence of our nation," he continued. "I hope this proves to the American taxpayers that they have not spent their money in vain to help this nation. Our gratitude will be long-term."
He was referring to U.S. support then during peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans.