- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

New face of Albania

Piro Misha frowns when he sees Albania described as a Muslim country and worries that image will hurt his nation’s efforts to advance in European institutions.

“It is not an Islamic country,” he told Embassy Row yesterday. “Albania is a multireligious country. Religion is not an issue, and we don’t want to make religion an issue.”

The State Department and other authorities frequently note that 70 percent of Albanians are Muslim, while the other 30 percent are Christian. However, Mr. Misha, one of Albania’s leading intellectuals, said those figures are decades old.

Mr. Misha, visiting Washington with four Albanian colleagues, said that regardless of how many Albanians may claim Islam as their religion, most Albanians are not particularly devout.

Saudi Arabia and other conservative Muslim states have failed in efforts to spread their brand of Islam into Albania, he said.

Diana Culi, president of the Independent Forum for the Albanian Woman, said their visit provides an effort to promote Albania in the United States and remind Americans that Albania is a strong partner in the war on terrorism.

“We have the image that we are always in crisis,” she said.

Remzi Lani, executive director of the Albanian Media Institute, said his country is pro-American and may have suffered for its support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“France and Germany are not very happy with us,” he said, referring to the two leading countries that encouraged European opposition to the war.

“We may be the most pro-American country in the world,” said Blendi Fevziu, editor of the Korrieri daily newspaper.

In meetings at the State Department, the National Security Council and Washington think tanks, they urged the United States to remain engaged in the Balkans.

“We worry that we could become a target for terrorist groups,” Mr. Lani said.

Genc Ruli, president of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, said terrorists could prey on Albania’s weak security structure and poor border security and join forces with organized crime.

“It would be easy,” he said. “Money laundering could be used to finance terrorist activities.”

Regardless of their fears of terrorism and instability, they expressed optimism for the future. Albania is working to join NATO and the European Union and hopes both institutions will embrace all of the Balkan nations.

“European integration is the only solution for the region,” Mrs. Culi said.

Australian defense

The U.S. ambassador to Australia yesterday praised that country’s decision to join the United States in developing a missile-defense system, which could protect against threats from terrorist states.

Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said Washington is urging all of its allies to embrace the program.

“We are talking about some terrorist organization or some rogue state launching a missile and trying to wreak havoc in the world,” he told reporters after Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced Australia’s decision. “We are talking to all of our allies about being involved, and we hope that they will be.”

Mr. Downer said joining the program will allow Australia “to make an important contribution to global and regional security.”

Japan’s sacrifice

The U.S. ambassador to Japan yesterday expressed his condolences over the death of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq but urged Tokyo to send troops to help the U.S.-led coalition.

“The loss of these two Japanese diplomats is another illustration of the terrible nature of terrorism, not only in Iraq but around the world,” Ambassador Howard Baker told reporters, referring to the deaths of Katsuhiko Oku and Masamori Inoue over the weekend.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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