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US secretary of state assures Western Balkans of support for path toward European Union integration

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Albania on Thursday to reaffirm relations with a key partner in the region and assure Western Balkan countries of Washington’s support for their integration into the European Union.

Blinken met with top officials and focused on the future of the Western Balkans as Albania and several neighbors seek to join the European Union, according to top U.S. officials. Washington has strongly supported Albania’s integration into the EU.

“We can’t have a repeat of what we saw and what too many people experienced in the 1990s, which is why we’re committed to supporting all of the efforts to advance the integration of countries in the Western Balkans with each other and with Europe,” Blinken said at a news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

The U.S. has praised Albania’s leadership in the former war-torn region and its recent role on the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member. Albania is a NATO member and has regularly assigned small army units to international peacekeeping missions and NATO operations.

Albania will host an international summit on Ukraine later this month, which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to attend.

Tensions between neighbors Kosovo and Serbia were addressed during Blinken’s visit, according to Rama. EU-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations have had slow progress and occasional violent incidents have fueled fears of instability. The United States and EU have expressed concern over Kosovo’s recent ban on the dinar as currency in its Serb-majority municipalities.

“The EU facilitated dialogue is the right, in fact, I think the only path forward and we’re committed to doing what we can to support both countries as they travel that path,” Blinken said.

Blinken also thanked Albania for “the extraordinary generosity that the Albanian people have shown in welcoming thousands of Afghan evacuees” after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from the country. Albania was the first to house about 3,200 fleeing Afghans before they moved for final settlement in the United States.

Blinken met some of the Afghans still in Albania who will soon go to the United States to start their new lives. “That journey would not be possible without Albania,” he said.

After one day in the capital, Tirana, Blinken travels to Germany for the Munich Security Conference.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://x.com/lsemini

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