WASHINGTON - Albania’s top diplomat called on the Democratic Party-led opposition to end its ongoing parliamentary boycott and re-engage in the legislative process, echoing a plea made earlier this week by Germany’s foreign minister.
Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati expressed his views about the political situation in Albania in an exclusive interview Thursday with VOA’s Albanian Service.
Bushati held talks with State Department officials about efforts to resolve domestic political tensions ahead of upcoming general elections in the Western Balkan nation.
The State Department issued a statement reiterating that plea shortly after meeting with Bushati.
Albania’s ruling officials allege that opposition legislators are boycotting parliament to block justice reforms required to kick-start European Union membership negotiations with Brussels. Judiciary corruption has been a primary obstacle to Albania’s post-communist development, and the necessary reforms, prepared with assistance from EU and U.S. experts, were unanimously approved last year.
Opposition lawmakers are refusing to participate in the June 18 elections unless Prime Minister Edi Rama steps down and a caretaker government is formed to guide the country to election day. Otherwise, they allege, Rama’s Cabinet will manipulate the vote with drug money, which leaves them unwilling to negotiate any compromise.
Albania has seen a substantial increase in marijuana cultivation under Rama’s watch.
US, EU agree
After meeting with Tom Shannon, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, Bushati told VOA that U.S. policymakers, like their EU counterparts, see Albanian justice reform as vital to securing the country’s role as a regional bulwark against terrorism recruitment networks.
“This administration will pay attention to the same issues that are considered a priority for U.S. foreign policy,” he said. “And here I want to stress justice reform, security issues, democratization process in Albania and the [Balkans] — cooperation on issues regarding terrorism and radicalism.”
In addition to meeting with U.S. defense and national security officials, Bushati addressed Washington’s German Marshall Fund on Wednesday, where he called Albania’s soft measures against violent extremism a success to be emulated by neighboring countries.
“In the case of Albania, we have seen very effective cooperation with religious [and] community leaders in confronting [radicalism],” he said, explaining that no foreign fighters had been recruited directly from his country in the last year.
In 2015, researchers at West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center reported that an estimated 500 ethnic Albanians had traveled from the Balkans to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State group since 2012.
Bushati has served as Albania’s foreign minister since September 2013. He previously chaired the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Albanian Service.