TIRANA, Albania: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Albania on Sunday to encourage the country’s leaders to complete anti-corruption reforms that could improve the country’s chances of joining the European Union.
Kerry was to meet with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama as well as opposition leaders. The Balkan country is a close NATO ally, but has struggled to halt the intertwining of political and criminal power a generation after the end of Communism.
The parliament in Tirana is weighing a major package of reforms, backed by the West, that includes a new anti-corruption unit, modeled after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Kerry will give it a nudge,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. secretary of state plans to “reinforce the message that this particular package of legislation is part of cleaning up Albania, not only so that it can make its case to the EU, but also to improve the climate for investment,” the official said.
In December, Albania’s parliament voted to kick anyone with a criminal record out of politics and the state administration.
Albania has received sustained U.S. economic assistance, including $20 million thus far to reform its judiciary and law enforcement. Tirana, in return, has frequently helped Washington with its foreign policy goals.
For example, Albania has given 15,000 tons of excess, Soviet-era ammunition to Kurdish fighters and Iraqi Security Forces battling Islamic State, the State Department official said.
Kerry and Rama also plan to discuss the problem of people leaving the Balkans to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Albania, U.S. officials said, has cracked down on the flow, reporting 140 citizens who left to fight in the Middle East in 2013-2014, compared with none in recent months.
Kerry’s visit to Albania is the first by a U.S. Secretary of State since November 2012, when Hillary Clinton addressed the Albanian parliament.