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Rice Urges Albanian Reforms to Meet NATO Criteria

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Albania to step up its program of economic and political reforms to meet the criteria for NATO membership.

Secretary Rice told Albania's new Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha at a meeting Tuesday, in Washington that Tirana should take every possible step to meet the requirements of the NATO action plan.

Basha, who is on his first official visit to Washington, expressed his government's intent to comply with all the elements of the plan.

On Monday, speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Basha rejected the idea that his country has aspirations to create a "greater Albania."

He told Secretary Rice that his government has urged patience and restraint in neighboring Kosovo, while its ethnic Albanian population awaits a United Nations Security Council decision on its future status.

Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province has been under the U.N. administration since 1999, after the NATO airstrikes halted Belgrade's deadly attacks on ethnic Albanian separatists there. The U.N. Security Council is expected to make a decision on its future status in the coming weeks.

Serbs have accused Tirana of supporting separatists in Kosovo with having the aim of creating a joint "greater Albania".

Basha said Albania's goal is to join the European Union and NATO.

He replaced Besnik Mustafaj who stepped down as foreign minister last month.

President Bush is planning to visit Albania and other regional states aspiring to NATO membership in early June.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.