US President George Bush received a hero’s welcome as the first American president to visit Albania today, and said there cannot be endless dialogue about achieving independence for Serbia’s province of Kosovo.
“Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say ’Enough’s enough. Kosovo’s independent”’, Bush said during a news conference in Tirana.
Bush, standing alongside Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, urged Albania to help maintain calm and peace in Kosovo as the province’s independence process moves forward. He said any plan to extend talks must have the goal of “certain independence”.
The US and key European countries, which support Kosovo’s independence, are trying to narrow differences with Russia over the future of Kosovo, which has been administered by the UN since a 1999 war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
The UN Security Council is divided over the issue.
Russia, traditionally a Serbian ally, contends independence would set a dangerous precedent for other breakaway regions around the world. Serbia also fiercely opposes statehood for Kosovo, which it sees as the heart of its historic homeland.
Bush said French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s suggestion for a six-month delay to try to ease Russian objections would work only if statehood was the ultimate objective.
“The question is whether there’s going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we’ve already made up our mind on,” Bush said. “I’m worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo. And therefore we’ll push the process.”
Bush urged Albania to work with Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership to keep the province calm and peaceful until the UN Security Council decides the fate of a UN plan that would give the province internationally supervised independence.
“What would be acceptable to the US is that … at the end of any process there would be certain independence,” Bush said.
When Bush arrived on his brief stop in Tirana, the hills overlooking the capital boomed as military cannons fired a 21-gun salute to the president. Thousands of people gathered in the central square on a brilliantly sunny day to see the president and first lady Laura Bush.
“I’m proud to be the first American sitting president to visit Albania,” Bush said.
Bush said he wants to encourage Albania’s free society. But it also makes good political sense on the world stage for him to stop in Albania, if only for about seven hours, and be seen receiving a robust greeting in the predominantly Muslim country.
Huge banners proclaimed “Proud to be Partners,” and billboards read “President Bush in Albania Making History”. Red-white-and-blue paper top hats with stars on top were passed out to well-wishers. Albania has such an affinity for America that it issued three postage stamps with Bush’s picture and the Statue of Liberty and renamed a street in front of parliament in his honour.
“I love to come to countries that are working hard to establish institutions necessary for democracies to survive,” Bush said.
Bush said Albania is a country that has cast off “the shackles of a very oppressive society and is now showing the world what’s possible”.
“You can count on America, just as America can count on you,” he said.
Bush met with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Berisha and greeted troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Albania recently decided to triple its deployment in Afghanistan to 140 troops. It also has about 120 troops in Iraq – a presence that Moisiu says will not end as long as Americans are engaged there.
Bush said he told the Albanian troops: “You are respected by our military. Your soldiers are good at what they do. They’re well-trained, courageous and disciplined.”
Bush also was having lunch with the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, which hope to join Nato next year.
Albania desperately wants to join Nato and the European Union.
Russia has opposed successive enlargements of Nato into eastern Europe. The likely Nato expansion into the Balkans does not please Moscow, but the Kremlin is much more concerned about the prospect that its neighbours Ukraine and Georgia may also be brought into the Western alliance.