US secretary of state visits Albania, a key regional ally seeking European Union membership


TIRANA, Albania (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Albania on Thursday to reaffirm relations with a key partner in the Balkans and an ally in supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Blinken will meet with top officials and focus 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.

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, with Ukraine’s president expected to attend.

Tensions between neighbors Kosovo and Serbia may be addressed during Blinken’s visit. EU-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations have had slow progress, while 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.

Blinken also will acknowledge Albania’s role 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 is expected to meet some of the remaining small number of Afghans still in Albania.

After his day in the capital of Tirana, Blinken goes to Germany for the Munich Security Conference.

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