Transcript of Press Conference with Jonathan Moore, Department of State, Director Office of South-Central European Affairs (April 18, 2013)
As I mentioned to some of you yesterday, when I was running from one meeting to the other, I’m very happy to be here in Albania. We are very proud to have Albania as a partner in NATO, and speaking as the Director of the Office that handles this region, we are happy to have Albania as a partner in this neighborhood.
This visit has been planned for some time. Certainly, the immediate political events of the week have become the focus of the visit. This is part of travel to several countries, including Kosovo and Macedonia, as well. For Albania, we are very keen to see elections take place on time, on June 23rd. It’s extremely important that the people of Albania have confidence in the conduct and the results of those elections.
I’ve had the opportunity over the past day and a half to meet with a series of people here. I just completed a meeting with Prime Minister Berisha. I was pleased to meet the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bumçi, to meet obviously Mr. Rama, Mr. Meta; I met Mr. Dule this morning. I met a number of other people in government and political parties. I hope it is not a surprise to you: I heard many similar things from the people I spoke with.
All the persons in politics told me that they want elections to take place on June 23. All of them said they will respect the results of those elections, that they support an extensive international observation effort, and that they are committed to remaining partners with the U.S.
We discussed in several of our meetings the events in parliament on Monday. As our Embassy has made clear, although we do recognize some concerns about change in balance with the formation of the pre-election coalition, we believe that there is a strong legal argument questioning the way Parliament voted on April 15th. Nevertheless, we want to see the CEC function. If that does not happen, elections cannot happen on June 23rd. We will see how the process continues.
We are very concerned by what we have seen. There is a high level of political tension going into these elections. Again, with questions and accusations on the subject of legality, I should say one of the people I met with yesterday was Mr. Kastriot Islami. Democratic principles include, of course, not only the right of people to vote in elections, but members of parliament to vote their conscience. We are very disappointed and concerned that there would be direct pressure by protesters at the home of a member of parliament. Making pressure not just against him, but also his family, is wrong.
In any case, with an excellent Ambassador and a very strong diplomatic team here in Albania, we’ll be tracking the election situation as it moves forward.
We look forward to the arrival of a significant long-duration observation mission by the OSCE. As a visitor from Washington, let me stress to you the very high interest of the U.S. in these elections. There will be a number of public discussions, including in the U.S. Congress, on the elections over the next few weeks.
Our interest was defined by the visit of Secretary Clinton in Albania last November. She spoke very strongly about the interest of the U.S. in seeing progress of Albania towards the EU and about Albania having a successful election cycle this year. I can tell you that those views are shared by her successor, Secretary Kerry, by all of us in the U.S. Government, and the U.S. Congress. So, thank you again for this opportunity to speak with you. We do have time for a number of questions.
Question: There are voices saying that regarding the two departures from the CEC, Mr. Biba and Ms. Shtylla, they have been done to postpone the elections. I would like to know the U.S. position. Does the U.S. support postponement, if a political party requests that?
Jonathan Moore: I am no expert on Albanian electoral law. I’ve taken – I don’t know the Albanian expression, of course – but a crash course in Albanian election law over the past 36 hours. The CEC, as I understand it, must have a minimum of five members to conduct an election. We certainly would like to see the fullest possible membership of the CEC. I have been told that with fewer than five members, it will not be possible to conduct elections. It is, of course, a matter for the individual members of the CEC to decide how they want to go forward. Again, having heard from the leaders of the political parties, both in government and in opposition, that they want elections to happen on time on June 23, that would certainly suggest that efforts should be made to ensure the full membership of the CEC is in place.
Question: Regarding the replacement of one member of the CEC, despite warnings by the international community not to do so, is it fair to say election standards have been damaged? Secondly, in the beginning of your speech, you said you are proud that Albania is a NATO member; however, the Economist Intelligence Unit classifies Albania as a hybrid regime. Does this damage the reputation of Albania as a NATO member, not respecting the political criteria that a NATO member should demonstrate?
Jonathan Moore: The U.S. Government has many factors and sources of information that it takes into account when we make our decisions. It is very true and very obvious, as I mentioned, that questions were raised about the process before and on April 15th. I do, however, draw my conclusions from the fact that all political parties told me that they want to proceed with the elections and that they will respect the results. There are countries in NATO, sometimes even in the U.S, where questions about the elections have risen and we certainly have every reason to believe that the elections will proceed here, and we call upon all sides, individual parties, to respond peacefully and responsibly to the process as it moves forward. Other than that, I will not make comparisons to other countries.
Question: Do you have a direct message to the leader of the government and the leader of the opposition, whom you also had the opportunity to meet, and can you tell us one of the messages you gave to them?
Jonathan Moore: I would say, because we have transparent and quite established relations with the leader of the opposition, the PM, and others, that the message I’ve shared with you is the same message I’ve shared with them: expecting respect for the laws, expecting professional campaigning, participation in the elections, with the goal of seeing Albania become a more prosperous country, a successful country as it works toward membership in the European Union.
And, again it’s a coincidence, but High Representative Ashton, who has been so very important to working in this region, was also just here in Albania and shared a very positive message about the future of this country. But the message to the political leaders is that it is not an automatic future. More work has to be done to make that possible. We very much encourage the Albanian people to take part in these elections and make that future possible.
Question: First, having heard your statement, the situation appears positive, but tension can be felt between the political camps. What makes you optimistic and what does Albania risk if it fails to have a free and fair campaign and elections? If possible, maybe you could speak less diplomatically, so that the average Albanian citizen can understand.
Jonathan Moore: Well, I have great faith in the ability of the people of Albania to interpret diplomatic statements. Whether it is young people who have enjoyed NATO for just the past few years, or the older generations that survived 40 years of dictatorship under Hoxha, I’m sure that they are quite good at reading between the lines.
We talk about political realities. My former boss, Secretary Clinton, in your parliament, she spoke about political realities. She spoke specifically about the tense political campaign she had with then Senator Barack Obama, running for U.S. president. I realize you are perhaps talking about a different kind of tension, but there were times in their campaign when the rhetoric was very strong and emotions very high. She spoke to your parliament about how those things can change, how they can adjust. She in January ended her four years as President Obama’s Secretary of State.
There has been a lot of talk about political tension in Albania. I was here about four months and a half ago. I spoke to many of the same people and I have heard rather different things, because the coalition then is not the coalition now. Certain people spoke about how they could never work together, and now they are working together in the pre-election coalition. Certain people talked about bad experiences in the past and how there was no trust and how they found it possible to work together. Again, the people of Albania, who have been through so many ups and downs, emotional highs and lows, over the years, I’m sure they have very candid opinions about different political parties and about political leaders. In that context, we hope they go to elections and express their views. Sometimes, discussion about tensions is made exactly to raise those tensions for political ends. We have every expectation that all institutions, individuals, and organizations will behave professionally through these elections.
If there are legal questions, they should be taken to court. That option exists. But ultimately, it will be up to the people to decide who they believe and who they support, and let me just go back to the same point: not only have all political parties said that they will peacefully accept the results of the elections, but nobody knows what the results of these elections will be. Perhaps the best message to the people of Albania is precisely that expectation from the political leaders.
Question: Did you get a pledge from Mr. Rama to fill the two vacancies in the CEC? Does Washington notice any threat of a dictatorship in Albania? I have in mind the interview given a few days ago by former U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ambassador Withers?
Jonathan Moore: These are both very simple answers. We did obviously discuss all these questions with Mr. Rama, including the CEC. Some of those decisions by CEC members to leave were just made yesterday morning. I did not make a specific request to him about what the next steps of the Socialist Party would be. On the second question, I can be very clear and direct on that too. Mr. Withers is a private person. As he pointed out in his recent interview, he expresses his opinions only as a private person, and by our laws and your laws, he has the right to do so. But, the official views of the United States come from our current Ambassador and the Government of the United States.