Defence Minister Olta Xhaçka's interview with Voice of America

Journalist: Hello, Mrs. Xhaçka and welcome to our studio.

Xhaçka: Hello, glad to see you.

Journalist: I just said about your request Mrs. Xhaçka towards Secretary of Defense Mattis. What are your expectations regarding this requirement that should be said it is not for the first time?

Xhaçka: First of all, I want to emphasize the operational engagement of the Armed Forces (AAF) during these years as NATO Ally and thanks to this commitment, seriousness and progress that the AAF of the Republic of Albania have accomplished over these years we are for NATO, but especially for the US, a worthy Ally, a stability factor in the region and a warrantor of collective security. In this context, we discussed with Secretary of Defense Mattis on the multiple challenges that the whole security situation presents, not only in the region but also in the world. We also discussed about the Western Balkans and the specifics of our region and without discussion our request, the request of the Ministry of Defense in meeting Secretary Mattis comes as a result of the fact that NATO today has no capacities in the Western Balkans and bearing this in mind, taking into consideration the stabilizing role of Albania in the Balkans, we made a request to make available all our capacities, be these military bases or air, sea, land capacities as an opportunity to provide a guarantee for NATO and the US to face today the challenges that come from East and South.

Journalist: Do you have any signal that NATO has the interest to have such a base and so expanded in the region?

Xhaçka: Of course, these were some opportunities to explore the further development of these relations with NATO and the US. Secretary Mattis was willing to consider these requests. Of course security and defense issues are common concerns of the NATO Allies and the Western Balkans is undoubtedly a very important region for NATO and the United States and, together, we will find the best solutions. However, I think that, a NATO presence or the United States presence in a country that has shown through all these years, with its commitment, with its contribution, that can be a very worthy ally and be a contact point or a very good footprint for the region would also be an opportunity to bring a new standard to our AAF.

Journalist: To respond to the threats coming from Russia?

Xhaçka: Undoubtedly from Russia and the South; dealing with Russian influence, but also with religious extremism, which influence we have seen in the Western Balkans region. On the other hand, such opportunity, an increased NATO or US capacity in the region would bring another standard to those very sensitive sectors of economy and infrastructure.

Journalist: This request has been made earlier and it seems that there is no signal on this issue, and even from Secretary Mattis there is no approval of the request you made.

Xhaçka: We are not discussing about approval. We are talking to explore new opportunities, to deepen cooperation with the US, to deepen cooperation with NATO in the interest of Security and common challenges. The challenges we face today are multidimensional, are different from what we had yesterday and today we are in other circumstances that impose other decisions. Along with the Allies we will judge what the best is.

Journalist: Mrs. Minister, you spoke yesterday about an increase of Russian influence in Albania, meanwhile during the conversation with Mr. Mattis you mentioned that there were noticed goals of growing interest of other countries, citing here, China, Iran but also Turkey, can you explain what you mean by this?

Xhaçka: What I said to you a little bit earlier is true, the growing Russian influence, the dangers that come from the East, but also the dangers that come from the South, through religious extremism or through other non-governmental actors that tend to destabilize region in function of their interests. Undoubtedly these are security issues that together with the Allies we have to take into consideration, that have to be taken seriously and not underestimated, but let me say that my request is about the fact that a NATO presence or the presence of the United States, for the Western Balkans I believe that at this moment would be very necessary. Of course, circumstances that dictate decisions and if circumstances, the threats coming from the East or the challenges that come from the East and the South are such to dictate this decision, I hope they will consider it seriously.

Journalist: You had a meeting with representatives of the US Company "Lockheed Martin" today, which is a well-known company in the field of the military industry. During the meeting, you mentioned, I quote, that you have asked this company to get more involved in the maritime surveillance system. What does it mean?

Xhaçka: I have asked this company to consider increasing our capacities and maybe a bigger investment in our country. It is about the giant “Lockheed Martin”, which is probably the most powerful and most serious company in the entire world of military industry. "Lockheed Martin" is involved in the navy surveillance system; it is the system designer. We have signed a contract for the integrated surveillance system for which "Lockheed Martin" has been working for several months.

Journalist: Who manages this system?

Xhaçka: System Management is certainly performed by "Lockheed Martin" with its partner, the Italian, "GEM Elettronica", which maintains the navy radar system. While "Lockheed Martin" is the designer and at the moment, the developer of the entire project for the Integrated Surveillance System. I wanted to create the opportunity to make a much better estimation of the capabilities we have on the entire air, land, sea surveillance system and to integrate them, of course, under the supervision of the giant "Lockheed Martin". I also asked Secretary Mattis but also Lockheed Martin to have an increased presence of US military industry investments in our country, which is undoubtedly welcomed.

Journalist: How do you respond to critical voices who have talked about intentional radar shutdowns occasionally?

Xhaçka: Totally untrue. Radars are not turned off, it is impossible. It's impossible. It does not exist.

Journalist: Mrs Minister, is there a lack of transparency on the part of Socialist Party governance? I mention here the latest case, the decision on the nominal tariff for the “Road of Nation”, which urged what the opposition called "civil disobedience" and then the government withdrew the tariff, then admitted that it was not consulted on this issue. How do you consider this?

Xhaçka: There is no lack of transparency. In fact this was a December 2016 decision. The bid, tender and contract negotiation was announced in December 2016. It is worth mentioning that in 2011, "Berisha Government" had foreseen an even more expensive tariff, over 8 euros for the road. This means, of course, that there may have been problems of a better discussion mainly with the residents of the area and therefore Prime Minister Rama and the Minister of Transport and Economy also discussed that they might have had a better communication on all contract details. And yet, it is a very expensive road, in the sense that the investment has not yet been completed, it should have been an Durrës – Kukës investment, but it was not. The truth is that it is a road that requires a lot of investment, not only to maintain but also to finish and if compared to the regional tariffs, it is worth to say that ours is cheaper than that of our neighbors. Greece has a fee of 0.07 euros per kilometer; Macedonia has 0.06 euros; Albania has a fee of 0.04 euros per kilometer, along with all the measures that the contract provides, for all residents, who will be users and for those who have no financial opportunity.

Journalist: But the Government withdrew in the meantime, and will conduct a study to determine the tariff for residents of that area won’t it?

Xhaçka: This government has the citizens' interests and the sensitivity to them primary. For us it is very important to have a very good discussion, public consultation on everything that is being done that all residents, all taxpayers, understand the importance of maintenance and investment for these major works. This is very important and the government has done this. Taking into consideration this situation, which is worth saying was deeply motivated by politics?

Journalist: But on the other hand this could have been done before or not?

Xhaçka: Again I said that this contract was signed in December 2016. Anyone who does a search on Google can find it. If, for a while, it has not been enough to have a public consultation, to have public information about it, we apologize. But for anything else, we have primary the interest of the inhabitants, the interest of the taxpayers and this is important for the way we govern.

Journalist: Thank you, Mrs. Minister, thank you for being in the studio to talk with us about your meetings here in Washington.

Xhaçka: Thank you very much for the invitation, it was a pleasure.



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