Transcript of Interview of U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim with Erla Mëhilli, NOW, Euronews Albania
Erla Mëhilli: Good evening, welcome to Now. Welcome to Euronews Albania. Tonight, at Now, I have the pleasure to have U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ms. Yuri Kim. Ms. Kim, good evening, welcome to Now. It is a pleasure that you accepted my invitation and I feel honored that you chose Euronews Albania and my show, to start the year, but also on the verge of the anniversary of your arrival to Albania.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Mirëmbrëma.
Erla Mëhilli: Thank you and welcome. Ms. Ambassador, in a few days, it will be the second anniversary of your arrival in our country. When this mandate began, you had three objectives: strengthening democracy, defense cooperation, and increasing American investments. We’ll take them one by one to also do a kind of balance sheet on where we are today vis-à-vis the objectives that you have had. I’ll start with American investments. Today, two years later, what are these investments that have come to Albania?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Mirëmbrëma and, of course, Happy New Year. It’s wonderful to be here at the start of this new year, 2022, and I’m glad to be doing it here with you, Erla, at Euronews Albania. It’s a pleasure.
Erla Mëhilli: Thank you, it is my pleasure.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: As you say, in a few days, it will be two years since I arrived here in Albania, and I have to say it has been a very exciting and wonderful two years. Lots has happened and, as you noted, I’ve had three priorities here: democracy, defense, and business. And I think that we have made good progress on all three of those fronts. On democracy, as you can see, we’re making progress on justice reform and on strengthening the institutions of democracy and I know we’re going to talk a bit more about that later.
Erla Mëhilli: I will ask you. But, American investments in these past two years, what are they? Which are the companies that have come to Albania?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, last year, we have two very big American companies that have started projects here. One is Bechtel that’s going to be handling the hydropower plant at Skavica. That’s in phase 1, which is the exploratory phase. If and when this project is completed, it will end up being the biggest U.S. commercial contract, not only in Albania, but in the region. And then combined with that, another big American company called Exxon is looking at bringing in LNG into Vlora, which is currently a thermal power plant, but that will be converted. Beyond that, there are other American companies that are invested here. So, right now, we’re on a very positive trajectory and, in fact, I was just looking at the numbers and, what I noticed is that for trade, last year we reached 162 million dollars, which represents a 47% increase over the previous year and for FDI, we went from 89 million to 151 million. Those are not big numbers, but the good news is that I think we’re on a trajectory to hit bigger and bigger numbers as the years go on.
Erla Mëhilli: What is the perspective? Will any other American company come to the country because in public opinion, there is no boom of American investment, at least that’s what the perception is among people. What is the perspective?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think the outlook is very positive and the reason I say this is, first of all, Albania has a wonderful workforce. It’s a young demographic and that’s a huge advantage in the region; secondly, Albania is working well with its neighbors. So, for example, things like Open Balkans, which seeks to break down the barriers between countries to make it easier to do business. That’s going to help a lot and the reason is this: Albania is a country of 2.8 million; that’s not a huge population, therefore it’s not a huge market. But, when you combine it with everybody else in the region, that’s why it’s so important that Open Balkans remains truly open to all six. When you combine it, then, it becomes a market that American companies and others will want to invest in, want to come into. So, that’s what’s positive. I think you’re going to ask me what the downsides are and what are the impediments.
Erla Mëhilli: No, in fact you answered the question that I wanted to ask you: Is Albania an attractive market for American companies or is it a small market, but you gave your answer on that. What I do want to ask you is this: How do you see the business climate in Albania? When I ask that, I also have in mind bureaucratic procedures, government efficiency, contract guarantees, the justice system, and corruption. I would like to remind you that the American Chamber of Commerce has continuously had criticism, including recently, on the business climate and corruption. The U.S. Department of State has also had critical reports. How do you view the business climate in our country?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: You’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. There’s tremendous potential here in Albania but there are impediments and the Albanian government has to do several things to make the environment more welcoming. One of those things is to make rules more rational, clear, and transparent. That’s one thing. The other thing – and this is the connection between justice reform and business – we have to have clean courts in order for American businesses to decide to invest. Because here’s what American businesses look at, here’s what companies around the world look at when they’re looking at new markets: Is there a market? Look at market size, how much profit can they make. They also look at whether the rules are clear. Can they make a profit abiding by these rules? And then finally, they look at worst-case scenarios: So, if there’s a dispute about a contract, is there a court system that they can go to get a fair, rational decision? Right now, the answer is: maybe! But this is why I emphasize that once Albania has clean courts, once investors and the public has confidence that decisions are rendered based on law, not based on intimidation or on bribes, as is too often the case, then you’re going to see a lot more investment here in Albania. I think Albania is on a trajectory to become a normal country but there’s a lot of work ahead.
Erla Mëhilli: In fact, since we moved to justice reform, that is what I want to ask you about. The main contribution of the United States of America in recent years has been precisely justice reform. You have made political, financial and technical contributions. The main objectives of this reform have been: a justice system that is more efficient, more professional, freer from corruption. At least those have been the objectives declared in the joint round table with the President of the Republic in the fall of 2014. Today, after seven years, it seems the focus has been placed only on corruption while the system is not more efficient, is not more professional than it had been; there are accusations, not only by politicians but also justice professionals that the system is in a state of collapse. Has the fight against corruption been given more of a priority than it should have at a time when individuals and businesses that we just mentioned had and have a need for a system that functions, first of all?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Justice reform has not been easy, quick or perfect, but I think that if you look at the facts, there is progress being made to full implementation. I think these are the growing pains. It’s now been five years since justice reform was passed by Parliament and in those five years, the first few years in particular were really rough. So, for three years for example, the Constitutional Court was unable to function. Last year, all the relevant institutions, from the Presidency, the Judicial Appointments Council, to the Ombudsperson, to everybody else, contributed and did their part to bring more justices on board, more judges onto the Constitutional Court. It’s now functioning. I think this year, we’re going to see more judges appointed so that you have the full complement. What I’ve noticed here on justice reform is that it does have many people who would strongly prefer that it not work. It’s just fine the way it is. They profit from it. Okay?
Erla Mëhilli: Who are these?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I don’t think that that’s most Albanian citizens. I think the normal Albanian wants to see justice reform implemented. I think that, for example last year, when they saw senior officials being arrested by SPAK, they felt: finally, justice reform is working. I think that they deserve more and I think it’s right for them to keep pressure on all the justice institutions, to keep pressure on all the politicians.
Erla Mëhilli: However, Ms. Ambassador, beyond the enthusiasm that you mention, the number of cases in the country’s courts is very large, the number of untried cases. And that is just as important as corruption because citizens are being delayed in getting justice in the different instances of the judiciary. Meanwhile, the number of judges has decreased. I would like to ask you a direct question: should someone be held responsible for not envisaging these consequences that this reform brought in the way it was conceived? The opposition has made criticisms. The criticisms the opposition has listed are precisely these that the system is faced with and we are unfortunately seeing them turn into reality. Should someone be held responsible for not envisaging…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think those who are critics of justice reform implementation make some good points and I think that part of the process of a reform as big as this one is to listen to critics. [You] can’t pretend that you are right all the time and nobody else gets a say. So, we see that as part of the process. When we see problems, we don’t look to assign blame. That kind of blame game is not what’s productive. Rather we focus on solutions. So, for example, when we see the huge backlog of cases in the judicial system, the U.S. Embassy, through USAID, is funding what are known as backlog reduction officers. This is a group of professionals who are helping to administrate and to sort the cases. They are not deciding cases, so, I want to get rid of that misunderstanding. Judges decide. But the administrative work that gets put into each case before it arrives on the desk of a judge, that’s what the backlog reduction officers do. So, that’s number one. Number two, we’re very pleased to see the justice institutions themselves taking a look at what works, what doesn’t and try to come up with solutions that give average Albanians the results that they want. So, for example, they are now looking at a new judicial map that is designed to simplify the process, consolidate some courts. And I think all of these ideas are worth exploring. This is something that should not become a partisan issue. These are national issues. All parties across the board back in 2016 supported justice reform and I think it’s really important for all parties across the political spectrum to continue to support its proper and full implementation.
Erla Mëhilli: Ms. Ambassador, you mentioned the new judicial map. Do you support this new map? Is it a hasty move or is it forced due to the hole that the vetting process has created in human resources? Because there are accusations that it may not lead to guarantees for access to justice.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think when you see problems, you have to look for solutions. The United States will continue to provide technical assistance to help find solutions to those problems but let’s see what happens here.
Erla Mëhilli: But you do support the judicial map?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We support the effort to find a solution. We are supporting the effort to look at the judicial map.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, there have been accusations that vetting bodies have worked with multiple standards, that vetting has been selective, politicized, and even rumored of corruption with high figures. Has the International Monitoring Operation observed these problems?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: There is an international board of experts who oversee the process, or as the name suggests monitor the process and we are constantly assessing. I think we’re at a point in the process where we should be taking a very, very close look, closer than we have before, to ensure that, as you point out, that the decisions are consistent, that the criteria are applied fairly and rationally, and that the results are explainable. I think that this is one of the big projects that needs to be undertaken in 2022.
Erla Mëhilli: Ok, you support the extension of the vetting bodies’ mandates, of the current bodies that exist. As long as there is this perception of them, that it is a politicized body, selective, with double standards, and corrupt, would it be good to replace it with a new body?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think the IMO, the experts, together with the Albanian institutions need to take a look at the facts, take a look at the data, look at the cases, look at the arguments, and the rationale behind decisions, and draw some conclusions. I don’t think that it is helpful to necessarily listen to the partisan debate because as I mentioned to you before, I think people are looking for ways to stop justice reform implementation. I think many people are quite comfortable and I think they wish that they could just roll back the hands of time so that it’s just like before, where there’s impunity, there’s no accountability. You can take bribes, nothing will happen to you. You can sign contracts, nothing will happen to you. You can give procurements to your friends, nothing will happen to you. That’s about to change. That is changing.
Erla Mëhilli: In fact, that is what the public perception is, that people in government and in power, are not judged. Only those who have left power are judged – ex-ministers, ex-mayors. When will the day come that this justice will judge those who are in power? Should we wait for them to be removed from power or should they be judged now?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think SPAK is doing its job. I think that they are delivering results. One big change with regard to public perceptions of justice reform I think, and SPAK in particular, this year compared to last year, it used to be that people used to make fun of SPAK. They had jokes. Now, regardless of which party you belong to or where you live in the country, if something is going wrong, when they see officials engaged in corruption, they say: I’m going to report you to SPAK. So, that tells us that public confidence in SPAK and in justice reform is increasing. I think that those who are in power, who are senior officials have an extra duty to ensure that they abide by the law. And I think that if they are called to account for breaking the law, then they should not be surprised and they should not expect immunity any longer.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, I’ll now move onto current political affairs that also has to do with strengthening democracy, one of the objectives you had from the start of your mandate. In May, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken made a public designation of Mr. Sali Berisha. It should be said that Mr. Berisha had been out of power for eight years at the time and when you have no power, you cannot commit corruption. Madam Ambassador, how can you fight corruption by striking someone who no longer has corruption?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: This is really about corruption and the process of designating somebody for engaging in significant corruption takes years. It’s not done overnight and it’s not done by one individual. It’s not done by a conspiracy. It’s not something that will be overturned. The idea that this is a designation that is somehow political revenge, or that it is because we don’t like somebody’s position on Kosovo, or that it’s because someone ordered us to do it; the kindest thing that I can say about that line of argument is that it is fantasy. Fantasy! Here are the facts. More than 200 people have been designated by the State Department for engaging in significant corruption. All of those cases go through a very rigorous process of review by the interagency. That involves hundreds of people, hundreds of experts who pore through all the data. They examine every single piece of evidence and then they put together a package. So, by the time it reaches the desk of the Secretary of State, any Secretary of State, regardless of party, regardless of administration, the Secretary has an assurance that that information is completely reliable. Here’s the other fact: of the 200+ people who have been designated by the Secretary of State, do you know how many names are out there that the public saw the name and thought: Wow, what a a surprise! We never knew! Zero! Do you know how many people have had their designations reversed? Zero! Albania is not the exception to the rule. There are no surprises here. The evidence is staring everybody in the face. Staring you in the face. And as the designation states in the statement made by the Secretary of State, people did not escape prosecution because they’re innocent. They escaped prosecution because they used their power, they abused their power to ensure that they would remain above the law. And what we are saying through these designations is that no one, no one is above the law…
Erla Mëhilli: So this is one of the reasons…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: …and if you use… Let me finish. If you use your position of authority to break the law, to steal from your country, and then you use your political strength to intimidate others, to prevent prosecution, proper prosecution, that’s not acceptable any longer. This has been true for a while. President Biden has made it extra clear. Last year, he issued some Presidential Proclamations as well as Executive Orders that require the State Department and the rest of the U.S. Government to hold people accountable for engaging in acts of significant corruption or in efforts to undermine democracy around the world and specifically in the Western Balkans. So, the answer is that this is not about anything else; it’s not about political views; it’s not about conspiracies; none of those fantasies, it’s about the facts. And the facts are staring you, and me, and the Albanian people in the face. They are obvious.
Erla Mëhilli: Since you mentioned facts, Madam Ambassador, a State Department spokesman, responding to an inquiry by a media outlet here in Albania, said that the sources based on which the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. State Department made this decision were non-governmental organizations, the government, and media. Are these the only sources?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. What that means is that we take into consideration a wide range of information that is available publicly and not publicly, so, open-source information, by which we mean information that is well-known to the public, as well as more confidential sources. Let me emphasize again, this is a years-long process that involves multiple agencies of the United States Government. it is not just the State Department. It involves agencies like the Treasury Department, the FBI, the CIA; a whole range of experts are involved in looking at the facts; first of all, collecting all the facts and then looking at the facts, and then putting together a file that the Secretary of State will have confidence he or she can sign. So, that’s how these designations take place. They don’t take place because someone said something to someone, and it’s a rumor, and therefore wouldn’t this be a good way to take revenge? It’s fantasy. It’s fantasy. Our decisions are based on fact. I’ll tell you another thing about these designations. I know people say, some people have tried the argument: well, there’s no evidentiary file, therefore it must be based on nothing. These 7031(c) designations are very specific. It’s not a legal case. So, in the 200+ designations that I have mentioned to you, in none of those cases do we present a public evidentiary file. That’s not the process. So, again, Albania is not going to be the exception to this rule. I know people are used to being the exception. I know designees are used to being excepted from the rules. You’re not going to escape the rule on this one, sorry!
Erla Mëhilli: So, will you be taking evidence to any court, in Paris or any court in Albania or…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I just said to you, that’s not how it goes…
Erla Mëhilli: You won’t be taking evidence…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: …That’s not how it goes…
Erla Mëhilli: …if they ask you…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: That’s not how it goes. That’s not how it goes. That’s not how it goes.
Erla Mëhilli: Mr. Berisha has sued Mr. Blinken in a court in Paris. If evidence is requested, you won’t be presenting those?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I’m not going to comment on fantasies and hypotheticals. I like to live in a fact-based world.
Erla Mëhilli: What about the current government, do you have facts? You have often said that there will be designations, other designations.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Let me repeat that the U.S. is dead serious when we talk about corruption and efforts to undermine democracy. We are dead serious when we say that all, all leaders will be held accountable for their actions. Let me say also, as I have said repeatedly last year: if you are engaged in corruption, if you are abusing your position of authority and power, if you are abusing the public trust, now is a good time to stop and think about the consequences. Now is a good time to weigh whether what you are doing and what you are gaining are worth the price that you are ultimately going to have to pay. Justice is coming and I think if anything, the designations that the United States has issued, last year and already this year, demonstrate that everybody will be held to account. No one is above the law. No one.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. Mr. Basha mentions it often in his rhetoric recently that the non-grata unites Mr. Rama, Mr. Berisha, and Mr. Meta. Does he have any information about that? The DP rhetoric says that this government won’t enjoy the full four-year mandate because other designations will come.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look, almost every week, I think, okay, not every week, every month, I see some article or some journalist saying: I know who the next person is going to be; there are going to be designations. With all due respect, I will say this is a very confidential process and I would be very surprised if their statements were based on actual, reliable information.
Erla Mëhilli: So, Mr. Basha does not have information on the non gratas, it’s just political rhetoric by him?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We do not share this information with anybody.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay. Madam Ambassador, why did you not contend with the designation of Mr. Sali Berisha but also asked the DP to expel him from the parliamentary group? It should be said that in the legal and constitutional aspect, this expulsion did not impact the mandate of Mr. Berisha. So, in spite of the expulsion, he remains an MP.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think voters should choose who best represents them. And parties should also choose who best represents them. Now, what I’ve made clear publicly and privately, and it’s not just me; this has been made clear by Deputy Assistant Secretary Escobar; it’s been made clear by Secretary Blinken; and it’s been made clear by the President: it is not normal and it is not acceptable to have someone designated for significant corruption to be the face of this country; the face of any party. If that were to happen, there would be consequences. So, we’re not telling you who you can vote for, but we think that you should make informed choices. And in that respect, we made very clear that if the Democratic Party or any party is led by somebody, is represented by somebody who is designated by the Secretary of State for significant corruption, then you cannot expect a normal relationship. That’s all we did, provided information.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. Mr. Basha has made clear that he was forced by the U.S. and by you to make this decision. Is that true? Did you force him and should democracy function that way?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: One of the things that I notice here in Albania is that there is a tendency to talk about who forced who, who is a hostage of who, who is the puppet, who has been bought, who has been sold. Look, we are all adults. We make decisions or we should make decisions based on information, based on our best judgment. We provided Mr. Basha, as we do publicly, information about what the designation means and what the consequences are. So, I believe that based on that information, Mr. Basha and others have made their decision.
Erla Mëhilli: Did you give Mr. Basha privately evidence or proof about this designation?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Well, you just said private, right? Private conversations are private.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay, but from what I heard from you, I understand that Mr. Basha should bear responsibility for his actions and not somehow bill it to pressure from the United States?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think that he made his decisions and I think we are all responsible for our decisions.
Erla Mëhilli: Ms. Kim, however, the U.S. has also declared non-grata Mr. Dako who, until September 2021, has been a member of the SP presidency and there have been accusations by democrats that he was involved in the April 25 elections. You did not exert the same pressure on Mr. Rama and the Socialist Party, at least publicly. Why?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I would advise you to go and review the record on what I may have said about designees in the run-up to the elections.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay. Publicly, in public perception and in my perception, it does not seem that you have exerted the same pressure on the government. Nevertheless…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I would say this: don’t focus on the audio, focus on the visual. What happened? What did you see? What’s been the result? And I would ask you to draw your conclusion based on, again, fact, not rhetoric.
Erla Mëhilli: Mr. Dako is no longer in the SP presidency. However, he has been active in this electoral campaign.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think that a lot of work remains ahead of us.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. Madam Ambassador, if after all that is happening, the DP is certainly divided, and if this political force turns into an irrelevant force for taking power, for changing power, for going toward victory, was this measure worth it?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look, when we talk about democracy, defense and business, what we support in Albania is a real and vibrant democracy. in order to have a real, vibrant democracy, you need a real, vibrant opposition. It is extremely important. The facts are that the Democratic Party has been vital to this country’s developments. At crucial moments, the Democratic Party has led this country forward. It doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. It doesn’t mean that it has to stay frozen in the past. What we would like to see is an Albania, is democracy in Albania, an opposition in Albania facing forward, feet forward, eyes forward. I’ll go back to January 8. I think when people saw the images, when people heard the rhetoric, I think they were horrified. As you know the United States was also horrified. We don’t want to see anybody dragging this country back into the past, back into a kind of politics that nobody wants to see. Nobody wants to see political violence. That’s in the past. Leave it in the past. Nobody wants to see teargas in the streets. That’s in the past. We’ve got to get rid of that kind of thing. We want to see an Albania that is firmly in the western family, that is doing its part as a NATO member, that is making the progress necessary to become a full member of the European Union, that is acting in a way that is in accord with its increasing stature in the world. For example, Albania is now a member of the Security Council of the United Nations. That’s an extremely important position to be in. Albania is sitting next to the United States, Russia, France, China, the UK. It’s sitting at a serious table, and I think its leaders, whether they are in opposition and especially if they are in government, they should be behaving in accordance with that stature.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. However, Madam Ambassador, the country needs to move forward, I agree. But do you agree that political pluralism is sacrificed because of that? Because with this division that the DP and country’s opposition has today, the risk is that this government, the SP, Edi Rama will be in power for 16 years.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think you want to keep your eyes forward and I think it’s important not to get caught in what’s immediately in front of your face. That’s not where the important thing is. I acknowledge that this is a painful period now and it is a cause for heartache and some conflict and we’re seeing that, but it’s also a clarifying moment. The Democratic Party has to decide what it’s about; has to decide which way it’s facing; has to decide what its relationship with the United States will be. We hope that the Democratic Party will emerge stronger, more united, and that it will face forward, that it will march toward the future, that it will put itself in a position of being able to win elections, being able to be the government, be a partner of the United States, that’s what we would like to see.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. Madam Ambassador, a credible partner also needs stability whether it is in opposition or in majority. You have given open support to Mr. Basha these recent times. However, Mr. Basha, in not-so-distant a past, has made decisions opposite to the clear requests and positions of the United States, such as the burning of mandates, the election boycott, attempts to ruin the June 2019 elections. Meanwhile, public opinion has also heard about lobbying in the United States of America. No other politician in Albania or maybe even in the Balkans has undertaken more anti-American actions ever before in terms of principles. Today, you declare him a credible partner. Did you forgive Mr. Basha for those actions? Can we say you have forgiven Mr. Basha for those?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: First of all, you’ve done a lot of editorializing there and injected a lot of your opinions, so let me clear the table. Without speaking to your editorial commentary on the nature of our relationship with Mr. Basha or our assessment of Mr. Basha’s performance, I will say only this: The DP is extremely important. Mr. Basha remains the elected leader of the DP. We believe in relationships with institutions. Institutions are critical to democracy. We will continue to see the duly elected leader of the DP and, in our experience, we have had a good partnership with Mr. Basha so that will continue.
Erla Mëhilli: In a democracy, the vote is the mechanism that resolves every debate. Mr. Escobar said that too. That also applies to democracy inside a political party. Will you encourage a vote to resolve this conflict inside the DP?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think parties have their rules and they should decide their leaders based upon their rules and in accordance with the broader law. It’s not for me to say.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay, Madam Ambassador, before I ask you about January 8, recently there have been some concession agreements and corrupt affairs by the government. The State Department report underscores corruption. What is your position regarding these affairs?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I’ll say it once again – we’re dead serious about corruption and we’re dead serious about holding accountable those who engage in significant acts of corruption, those who abuse and betray the public trust for their own gain. So, I don’t think I can add much more to those words to clarify what our position is, but it should be very, very clear to everybody where the United States stands on this issue.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, on the January 8 protest. You issued a tweet to focus on the force used by protesters, while the prosecution office and the media saw that there was violence on the other side as well, coming from inside the building that is. How would you respond to accusations that you were biased in this reaction of yours?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I’m not quite sure what you mean? How can you be biased when you say there should be no political violence? Unless the other side is saying there should be political violence, in which case, yes, I’m biased. I am against political violence. The United States is against political violence. Look, I think that people were horrified, I know that people in Washington, Albania’s friends around the world were horrified, to see those images of people smashing windows and ripping doors down, and violence and punching and blood. There is now an investigation into this issue and I think it’s inappropriate for me to be the one to assign blame. Let’s wait and see what the investigation reveals.
Erla Mëhilli: The U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission was in the DP headquarters the day before the protest. I believe he saw the situation inside that had armored doors, fortifications. Did he tell you what he had seen there?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We have lots of conversations, which I’m not going to reveal on TV.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay. Is it normal, Madam Ambassador, that MPs are not allowed to enter the headquarters of their own party?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think that’s not for me to comment. Parties have their rules and I think they should abide by their own rules.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay, another question. What will happen if democrats elect Sali Berisha as their chairman? What rapport will you have?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think party members have to think very carefully, as I said before, about who they are, about the role they will play in Albanian politics and in Albanian democracy, about what it will take to win elections, about what it wants its relationship with the United States to be. I think they have facts. I will continue as the representative of the United States Government and specifically of the American President to make clear what the U.S. position is, and to provide information that people should consider as part of their own decision-making process. But it’s a really important decision and it’s a really important time. Albania is at a turning point and we hope that Albanians, whether they belong to this party or that party, that they will continue to face forward, to choose the future, to continue to build this country in a way that strengthens its democracy, that eradicates corruption, that makes clear that no one is above the law, that makes clear that the United States and Albania are partners. This is the strongest partnership that there is anywhere around the world that I can see and maybe I am biased in that respect, that I favor Albania, but in the two years that I have been here, I cannot think of another place in the world where we have a better friend, where the Albanian people, where the local people are friendlier and more welcoming and hospitable than the Albanian people. So, I’m optimistic actually that people will make a wise decision, but ultimately it is their decision to make.
Erla Mëhilli: Clear. Madam Ambassador, we’ll go to just a short commercial break and we’ll be back. [Commercial break].
Erla Mëhilli: We’re back in the studio. I’m in an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ms. Yuri Kim. Madam Ambassador, I won’t ask any more about internal politics. Albania has been chosen a temporary member of the UN Security Council. The American Government had a great role in it. While expressing gratitude for that role, what is the expectation from Albania in this role in the UNSC for the first time? What is the expectation from that role?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Albania has now joined one of the most important tables in the world to decide serious issues, around the world, so I think building on the temporary term of Albania as the Chairman in Office of the OSCE, this is a bigger step. And, as I mentioned before, Albania is literally sitting next to the United States, Russia, China, France, the UK, in contemplating, discussing, and deciding key issues around the world. So, for example, just in the past week alone, there were deliberations about North Korea’s launch of missiles that were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, there was discussions of attacks that took place and the loss of life in the UAE, there were discussions about Sudan, so everywhere around the world that you can imagine, Albania is now having to think beyond its borders. So, this is amazing. This country has gone from being known as the hermit of Europe, the North Korea of Europe, to becoming one of its key voices in the world. So, we’re very pleased to be sitting with Albania. We’re looking forward to cooperating. This is a big responsibility and you sort of said earlier that Albania owes its seat to the United States. That could not be further from the truth. Obviously, we support very much Albania’s taking a higher profile, but here’s what happens with the Security Council. There are five members who are permanent that I mentioned. Then there are 10 temporary members who come in for two-year terms and they come in at different times so each year, five are elected for these two-year terms. That involves lobbying, that involves persuading other members of the United Nations to vote for them, and I think it says a lot about Albania that other countries around the world decided: Albania deserves a seat on the Security Council. So, we’re very pleased to see this.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, military cooperation between Albania and the United States of America appears stronger than ever. The large Defender 21 exercise took place in Albania. NATO is investing in the Kuçova Airport. And recently, the U.S. Government decided to have in Albania the operational SOCEUR base. Can you tell us the significance of all these developments vis-à-vis Albania’s role in the region, in NATO, and in the partnership with the United States?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Here’s what we’re looking to do with Albania. Last year, as you know, we celebrated 30 years of renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania once it was freed of communism. This year, we’re going to celebrate 100 years of relations between the United States and Albania that were established in 1922, when Albania was still the Kingdom of Albania. It’s a big year, a lot has happened. And, even when we take away the 50 years when Albania was isolated by the communist dictatorship, we have made tremendous progress. So, this year, in the centenary of the relations, we are looking to take the relationship to a much higher level. So, last year, as you mentioned, we had Defender Europe 21, which is the largest U.S.-led military exercise in the Balkans ever and Albania was the main host of that exercise. We had three four-star generals who came to Albania, plus up to 6,000 U.S. troops. Every single one of them, when they left Albania, left with a feeling that we have no ally who is stronger or more loyal. So, here’s what we want to do: we want to make sure that Albania’s loyalty and courage are matched by its capabilities. So, you’re going to see more training together, you’re going to see more exercises together, and you’re going to see more investment by the U.S. military in Albania.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, on the Adriatic, aircraft carrier Harry Truman is conducting an exercise. What is the purpose of that exercise and is it linked with any possible scenario of a conflict in Ukraine?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: The U.S. military is required to be ready at all times and so, these movements that we undertake to ensure freedom of navigation, for example in Asia, or just free lines of communication in Europe, are normal. We also conduct exercises on a regular basis so these are in a sense related, but also unrelated to any current events.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, you mentioned previously that everyone when they leave, they leave with a feeling of… where does this confidence come from for Americans and foreigners?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think that it’s very obvious when anyone comes to Albania – this is a special place. It’s a really special place. And for me as a diplomat, I know for all my colleagues as diplomats who are here, it’s not meetings with government officials, although we know that those are necessary and they are quite productive as well, the best part about being in Albania is traveling around this country and I know that for me that has been the case and I’m looking forward to traveling more because I want to hear more what people are thinking about. I want to know what their true opinions are and I know that sometimes, when I stick to the official schedule, you know, it’s really planned out in advance, and people are selected. I want to talk to real people and sometimes I get opinions that are surprising to me.
Erla Mëhilli: In fact, I’ve followed with interest your visits around Albania, meetings with ordinary people. Many foreign friends of mine tell me that Albania is a country that you either love or you hate. There is no middle. You belong to those who are in love with this country?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I don’t know anyone who is not in love with Albania? So, once again, I have to disagree with you. I really haven’t met anybody who doesn’t come away saying: I love this country.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, before I ask a last personal question. Yesterday, the President of Turkey was on a visit, Mr. Erdogan, and he said the issue of Gulen had to be resolved. Are you concerned about decisions that the Albanian Government may take, considering the friendship between Albania, Turkey, Mr. Rama, Mr. Erdogan?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I’m not going to comment on those issues. Those are for other people to deal with but here’s what I will say: We value very much Turkey as a NATO ally, in the same way that we value Albania as a NATO ally. And we need to be able to count on each other. As you know, NATO is facing a great challenge and this is coming from Russia in a crisis that they have generated on their own. And we need to be clear here about who our allies and friends are, and what we need to do together to face the challenges ahead of us. And I will say this: I think the Albanian people know very well what is going on based on their own experiences through history. When we look at the situation in Ukraine, Russia has put out a lot of misinformation about what is happening there. And we need to point out the facts here. The facts are: it’s Russia that invaded Ukraine via Crimea in 2014; it’s Russia that has sought to destabilize Ukraine’s democracy; it’s Russia that has amassed more than 100,000 troops on the borders; it’s Russia that is threatening the Ukrainian people; it’s Russia that has produced 14,000 Ukrainian deaths over the last few years. So, I think we need to be clear about the facts. We need to be clear about our alliance and the purpose of our alliance. There is on this front, as I say on democracy, defense, and business, a lot of work ahead of us and I’m really looking forward to tackling that, with all of our partners across the board, whether they are in government, whether they are looking to get in government, and of course with just regular people.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, when we’re in a scenario of almost the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, can we say that Russia might increase its influence mechanisms in the Western Balkans? Do you have an increased attention on a Russian threat in Albania?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think that they have a certain track record, in the Western Balkans and around the world. They have a certain history here in Albania and I don’t think that anyone in Albania needs a lecture from me on the challenges we face.
Erla Mëhilli: Madam Ambassador, since we’ve come to the end, I do have a last question for you. Is this the last year of your term in Albania?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I know there are a lot of rumors about whether I’m leaving. I think sometimes maybe there are people who wish that I would go away sooner rather than later. What I have told my bosses in Washington is that I remain very honored to be representing the United States here in Albania and I have no desire to leave early and I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and working harder than ever in the year ahead of us. There is a lot of work to be done. There is so much potential in the relationship between the United States and Albania and I’m looking forward to exploring this country more as well.
Erla Mëhilli: You said you don’t wish to leave early from Albania. Have they offered you that possibility to leave earlier?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I am here and I don’t intend to go anywhere else for the duration of my assignment.
Erla Mëhilli: You’ve been rumored as one of potential candidates for South Korea, as ambassador there. And it is not only your country of origin but also one of the most important posts in American diplomacy. Is there any truth to it?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Not as far as I know. I’m here. I’m focused on the United States and Albania.
Erla Mëhilli: …in the future?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Who knows what’s in the future.
Erla Mëhilli: Okay. I thank you very much for being with me tonight on Now. It was a pleasure.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Thank you very much.
Erla Mëhilli: We were here with the U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ms. Yuri Kim. We’ll meet again next Monday together. Until then, good night.