Albanian PM: ‘I wish our bond with Gulf states will become stronger and stronger and stronger’

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Updated 27 September 2023

Albanian PM: ‘I wish our bond with Gulf states will become stronger and stronger and stronger’

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks to Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar. (Asharq News)
  • Edi Rama tells Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar, achievements of Gulf countries are a “source of inspiration”
  • Explains why ties with Iran remain broken, sounds confident about EU accession, says being in the Western camp is a priority for Albania

LONDON: During a wide-ranging interview with Asharq News, Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania, has heaped praise on Gulf Cooperation Council countries, opened up about tensions with Iran, and expressed optimism about its path to joining the EU.

Speaking to Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar, he expressed his admiration for the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the other GCC member states, describing their accomplishments as “a source of inspiration.”

“As for Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries, we have very strong relations with the UAE, with Saudi and with Kuwait, and I wish they will become stronger,” said Rama, a painter, writer, former university lecturer, publicist and ex-basketball player.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks to Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar, during a interview. (AN photo)

“I see with admiration what is happening there, both in UAE and in Saudi (Arabia), and I praise a lot the leaders there that are showing vision and are lifting up these countries, and they are making them, in many ways, a source of inspiration.

“We can disagree on certain things but this is not a reason to not admire what they are doing, and we have a lot to learn from them. And I wish our bond will become stronger and stronger and stronger.”

By contrast, one Middle East country with which relations remain strained is Iran. Albania, a member of NATO, accused Iran of carrying out a cyberattack on July 15 last year, which temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites. Days later, a second cyberattack hit one of Albania’s border systems.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks to Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar, during a wide-ranging interview. (Asharq News)

Tirana responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Tehran and expelling Iranian embassy staff. At the time, Saudi Arabia condemned the cyberattack.

“We had to act on Iran because Iran was acting brutally against us,” said Rama. “They targeted Albania with a very vicious cyberattack.

“Why? Because we have given shelter to a few thousand Iranians, not to make Albania a political platform against the regime — although we have nothing to like about that regime — not to give them a platform against the regime, but to give them a shelter because their lives were in danger.”

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama doodles during the speech of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. (File/AFP)

Rama was referring to members of the anti-regime People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as Mojahedin-e-Khalq or MEK, who moved their headquarters from Iraq to Albania in 2016.

“We are a country that always honors human beings and human life,” said Rama. “Iran didn’t understand that well, or at all, and attacked us, so we had to sever diplomatic ties and kick them out.”

Rama appeared confident during the interview that his nation will soon be admitted to the 27-member EU bloc.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama doodles during the speech of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. (File/AFP)

“I’m always tragically optimistic — I’m not pessimistic — but I must say that to me, the EU is the most fascinating thing in the world history of politics that humankind has created,” he told Al-Ahmari.

“A vision for peace and for security and an action to bring together countries with a long history of fighting each other, and to put common interests for the future above the separate ways of looking at history.

“And on the other hand, the EU has created an incredible experience of state functioning, of institutional functioning, of true separation of powers, of rights, of people being respected and of equality before the law.”

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks to Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar, during a wide-ranging interview. (Asharq News)

Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009 and was granted candidate status in June 2014. The EU held its first intergovernmental conference with Albania in July 2022.

Since then, the EU-Albania Stabilization and Association Council has praised Tirana’s progress on the rule of law, in particular its comprehensive justice reforms and battles against corruption and organized crime. It has, however, called for more tangible progress on freedom of expression and the consolidation of property rights.

“There are no unrealistic demands from the EU, I must say,” said Rama. “We have to do our homework and it’s very important to make sure that everyone understands that our homework is not something we have to do because of them, or for them. Our homework is something we have to do for our children, for the Albania of tomorrow.”

Adhwan Al-Ahmari, host of the Asharq News talk-show Al-Madar. (AN photo)

Besides Albania, there are seven other recognized candidates for EU membership, including Turkiye, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Albania’s road to EU membership has not been smooth, however, leading to suggestions of deliberate stalling or sabotage.

According to a 2011 census, 56.7 percent of Albania’s population adheres to Islam, making it the largest religion in the country. The remaining population either follows Christianity (16.99 percent) or are irreligious.

There has been speculation in recent months that a decision on Albania’s EU membership has been delayed because of misgivings over its Muslim-majority population on a continent that is historically Christian. Rama rejected this as a conspiracy theory.

“We might have a lot of Muslims in our country, God bless them,” he said. “And we have a lot of Christians, too. And we also have a lot of atheists.

“But the important thing, and what we treasure most, is that before all, they are all Albanians, they are all brothers and sisters, and we never had religious problems and we never had conflicts, and we always lived our life together. And it’s very common in our country that Christians celebrate Ramadan and Muslims celebrate Christmas. So I would say that we are really in a very good place and there is no space for (conspiracy) theories.

“Secondly, I know that in Europe there is not always, let’s say, an easy way to accept Muslims. And there is sometimes, unfortunately and disgracefully, one voice here, one voice there, one party here, one party there, that says it shamelessly.

“But overall, the EU is not a place where Muslims are seen as a danger or seen like a problem, and they are being quite welcomed and integrated.”

Bulgaria’s veto over North Macedonia joining the EU stalled Albania’s progress because the bloc is treating both countries as part of a single membership package. However, the path was finally cleared in July last year.

Rama said any suggestion that Bulgaria, an EU member since 2007, plans to put further obstructions in the way of Albania’s accession would be news to him.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine. (File/AFP)

“No, this is not something true, I believe,” he said. “Or at least if this is true, it is the first time I’m hearing about it — and I would be very, very surprised. But with Bulgaria we have a very friendly relationship and we have never had a problem.

“Yes, we had some debates in the past but not about Albania, about North Macedonia, which is our beloved neighbor. But no, Bulgaria would never do such a thing to please Russia and veto the integration of Albania in the EU.”

Similarly, Rama said he sees little chance that EU member Greece will stand in the way of Albania’s EU membership, regardless of past disputes.

“On the contrary, Greece has been good to us, has been supportive to our integration process,” said Rama. “And there are hundreds of thousands of Albanians that live in Greece and they are integrated, they work there. And there are a lot of Greeks coming here for tourism. So we are brotherly countries.”

While Albania has set its sights on closer ties with Europe, other powerful players, including China, Turkiye and Russia, have made inroads into the Western Balkans region.

“I would not put the three of them in the same basket because they are three different actors with different reasons and also different will in approaching the Balkans or other areas,” said Rama.

A communist state from 1946 to 1991, Albania split from the Soviet Union in the late 1950s following Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Joseph Stalin, which Albania’s leader at the time, Enver Hoxha, viewed as a departure from the ideological principles of communism.

Mojahedin-e-Khalq members wave flags during the conference “120 Years of Struggle for Freedom Iran” at a base for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in Manza, Albania. (File/AFP)

Rama said strategic relations with Russia did not serve the interests of the Balkans back then and they do not serve them today, as demonstrated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia has (revealed) itself fully by attacking Ukraine brutally in the third decade of the 21st century at the gates of the EU, by investing in a war, killing people, and (revealing) itself in a way that is really shocking. It’s a completely imperialistic vision of the world,” said Rama.

“What Russia wants in the region, it’s easy to understand, and we are not interested in having any type of substantial relationship with Russia because of our history, for good or for bad. Of course it is not the same Russia (now). But it’s not very different and so we’re not interested. They also have understood, in time, that Albania is not a field to plant their seeds of division with Europe, with the West.”

Instead, Albania has prioritized ties with Western countries, he said.

“We are totally dedicated to the Euro-Atlantic community, because history has taught us some very important lessons and it is the best place to be for reasons of peace and security,” he added.

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary
Updated 11 sec ago

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary
  • Grant Shapps visits Israel, holds talks with Palestinian officials in Ramallah
  • British Support Team has been in West Bank for over a decade working with PA on security issues

LONDON: British military personnel are helping the Palestinian Authority prepare to take control of the Gaza Strip, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps told The Times.

The British Support Team, which works with US and Canadian personnel, has been in Ramallah for over a decade, working with elements of the Palestinian security services, he said.

Shapps met the team and PA Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Ziad Hab Al-Reeh in Ramallah on Thursday, and said the UK’s presence could be expanded to assist the PA with any power transition in Gaza.

“Ultimately, I think the solution (to governance of Gaza) is likely to be a Palestinian Authority, who need to be capable of a level of governance which will require a huge amount of international help and support and we are not there yet,” Shapps said.

“When something really terrible happens what we absolutely need to do is get something that is better than what was there before.

“We have to use this appalling crisis to improve the security of Israelis and the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians. And I think you do that by bringing together an international coalition which is led by Arab states in terms of the on-the-ground reconstruction of Gaza and also administratively.

“One of the reasons we are going to Ramallah to talk to the Palestinian Authority is to understand their capacity and ability. One of the things we will be doing is talking to the British team who are helping to build that capacity along with the Americans.”

Shapps, who is Jewish, also met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. They lit candles to mark the first day of Hanukkah, while Shapps also visited a kibbutz near Israel’s border with Gaza.

His comments come in sharp contrast to those of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said Israel needs security control over Gaza after its military operation in the enclave ends.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in November that the PA taking control in Gaza would depend on a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Harry says UK not safe for him and family without security

Prince Harry. (AP)
Prince Harry. (AP)
Updated 45 min 18 sec ago

Harry says UK not safe for him and family without security

Prince Harry. (AP)
  • The youngest son of King Charles III quit the British royal family with his wife Meghan in early 2020, and settled in California


LONDON: Prince Harry believes he was forced to leave the UK and that he and his family can never feel safe during visits home without adequate security, a court was told Thursday.
The youngest son of King Charles III quit the British royal family with his wife Meghan in early 2020, and moved to north America, eventually settling in California.
He has brought a case against the British government at the High Court in London after his UK taxpayer-funded protection was removed.
A hearing has been taking place since Tuesday, with only the opening and closing session open to the media and public for security reasons.
On Thursday, his lawyer Shaheed Fatima said Harry did not accept that he chose to stop being a “full-time working member of the royal family.” Fatima read his written statement to the court, which said: “It was with great sadness for both of us that my wife and I felt forced to step back from this role and leave the country in 2020.
“The UK is my home. The UK is central to the heritage of my children and a place I want them to feel at home as much as where they live at the moment in the US.
“That cannot happen if it’s not possible to keep them safe when they are on UK soil.
“I cannot put my wife in danger like that and, given my experiences in life, I am reluctant to unnecessarily put myself in harm’s way too.”
Harry’s lawyers have argued that the decision to change his security arrangements as a result of his departure was “unlawful and unfair” given his royal status and his mother Princess Diana’s death.
She was killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997 as she tried to escape paparazzi photographers.
But lawyers for the government reject that he was “singled out” and treated “less favorably” or that a proper risk analysis was not carried out.
James Eadie, for the Interior Ministry, told the court that it was decided Harry would not be provided the same level protection as before because he had left the royal family and mostly lived abroad.
A judgment in the case — one of five involving Harry at the High Court — will be given at a later date.
In May, he lost a bid for a legal review of a government decision refusing him permission to pay for specialist UK police protection himself.
The ministry argued then that it was “not appropriate” for wealthy people to “buy” protective security when it had decided that it was not in the public interest for such taxpayer-funded protection.
London’s Metropolitan Police also opposed Harry’s offer on the grounds that it would be wrong to “place officers in harm’s way upon payment of a fee by a private individual.”



Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories
Updated 07 December 2023

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories
  • Sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton, Lancashire targeted for selling parts used in F-35 manufacturing
  • Workers for a Free Palestine group demands UK govt back Gaza ceasefire, Israel withdraw from Occupied Territories

LONDON: Protests have taken place at factories across the UK tied to the arms industry over the sale of equipment to Israel.

Hundreds of members of the Workers for a Free Palestine group arrived at sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton and Lancashire to call on manufacturers including BAE Systems to sever relations with Israel. Protests also took place in France and Denmark at other defense-related facilities.

At the factory in Glasgow, a banner reading “Stop Arming Israel” was unfurled at an entrance alongside Palestinian flags.

The sites are thought to manufacture and supply parts for the F-35 jet, a multi-role combat aircraft built by US defense firm Lockheed Martin, which Israel has used in missions over Gaza.

The group is also calling on the UK government to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and for Israeli forces to leave the Occupied Territories.

A Workers for a Free Palestine spokeswoman told Sky News that the F-35 is a key component of “Israel’s murderous war machine.”

She added: “The fighter jets these factories help to produce are being used to imprison the people of Gaza in a death trap.

“They are ordered to evacuate when they have nowhere safe to go, while our government still refuses to back a ceasefire.

“Workers all over Britain are rising up for Palestine, saying we will not allow arms used in a genocide to be supplied in our name and funded by our taxes.”

A protester said BAE System’s management, not its workers, is responsible for selling lethal items to Israel. “It is them we hold accountable for being part of the chain of killing,” he told Sky News.

A BAE Systems spokesperson said the company is “horrified” by the “devastating impact” that the conflict is having on civilians in Gaza, adding: “We operate under the tightest regulations and comply fully with all applicable defense export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.”

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan
Updated 07 December 2023

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan
  • The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was battling to keep his party together on Thursday a day after unveiling a plan to disregard some human rights law to send migrants to Rwanda, bringing back to the fore deep divisions in his party.
Facing the biggest challenge to his year-long tenure, Sunak is trying to stop lawmakers on the Conservative Party’s right wing from rebelling over their demand that Britain should quit international treaties to set its own migration policy.
His immigration minister quit on Wednesday and he is facing questions as to whether he can get his key policy through a vote in parliament. Some Conservative lawmakers said on Thursday that Sunak could face a leadership challenge.
The prime minister was due to hold a press conference at 1100 GMT.
One Conservative politician, who reluctantly supports the Rwanda plan, said the last year had shown that his colleagues can be ruthless in removing a struggling prime minister.
“I have a feeling of deja vu,” he said.
The draft legislation comes three weeks after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send those arriving in small boats on the southern coast of England, and that the plan would breach British and international law.
The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration. The court’s decision was a setback for Sunak who is struggling to revive a weak economy and is heavily trailing the main opposition party ahead of an election expected next year.
Sunak could make the vote in parliament on the new legislation next week a confidence vote — meaning that if he loses, it could trigger a national election — in an attempt to shore up party support.
So far only one Conservative lawmaker has publicly called for a no confidence vote, but she said six of her colleagues have done so privately.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 53 of the 350 Conservative lawmakers in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Sunak suffered his first parliamentary defeat this week as members of parliament voted to establish a compensatory body for victims of the infected blood scandal.
The prime minister has pleaded with his party to get behind the legislation as the best chance to get flights to Rwanda leaving before the next election.
A poll last month showed immigration was one of the three biggest issues facing the country. Only the economy and National Health Service were seen as more important.
Last year net legal migration hit a record of 745,000 people and around 45,000 arrived illegally.
Rwanda currently only has the capacity to accept a few hundred migrants from Britain, but ministers say the plan will act as a vital deterrent to discourage people from making the crossings.
The new bill will instruct judges to ignore some sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and provisions of domestic or international law that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe destination, though appeals by people based on specific circumstances would still be permitted.
The former interior minister Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and their allies say that does not go far enough, with some wanting Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.
“I’m very concerned that the bill on the table will allow a merry-go-round of legal claims and litigation,” Braverman told BBC radio, but said no one was talking about changing the party’s leader.
“The reality is, and the solid truth is, that it won’t work and it will not stop the boats.”

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
Updated 07 December 2023

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
  • Dr. Noubar Afeyan speaks at Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Singapore Summit
  • Development of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 was matter of ‘luck’

SINGAPORE: The world is not prepared to face another pandemic, the co-founder and chairman of Moderna said, as insufficient attention was being paid globally to health system resilience.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer who co-founded the US-based drugmaker in 2010, was speaking at the Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Summit held in Singapore on Dec. 3 to 6.

Organized and co-hosted by the Advanced Tomorrow, or ATOM, initiative and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore, the meeting of global political, business, and academic leaders focused on the future of healthcare amid geopolitical changes and technological advancements.

During a discussion on the ability of health systems to prepare for shocks and global disruptions such as the global outbreak of coronavirus in 2020, Afeyan, whose company’s COVID-19 vaccine became the second one to get cleared for use in the US, said the quick release of jabs may have given “the wrong impression” of resilience.

“We got lucky, because it so happened that this virus was amenable to an intervention that the company that I co-founded, Moderna, had developed a technology for,” he said.

A similar technology was developed by Pfizer, whose vaccine against COVID-19 was the first to receive a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration. But the fact that what both companies worked on at the time ended up being useful in addressing the coronavirus outbreak was accidental and will not help if the next health crisis is caused by a completely different pathogen.

“There will be other threats, for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that this technology is not going to work for,” Afeyan added. “We have no good solutions for that right now. So, if there’s a major bacterial outbreak through the food system, through any other means, we’d be really gambling that we can come up with something quickly.”

The problem with preparedness was in both attention and funding worldwide being directed not toward long-term health security but to short-term solutions.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of attention paid to resilience because resilience always gathers momentum after there’s been a failure,” Afeyan said. “As soon as the failure is forgotten, resilience goes out of the window.”

Dr. Armen Sarkissian, former president of Armenia and theoretical physicist who chairs ATOM, said on the sidelines of the Singapore conference that current approaches were like betting on an uncertain outcome, with success depending only on luck.

“We are at a crossroads of a huge number of problems. One problem, for example, is the resistance to antibiotics ... We were lucky that 100 years ago, by accident again, (Scottish physician and microbiologist) Mr. (Alexander) Fleming found penicillin, but we have overused penicillin and related drugs,” Sarkissian told Arab News.

He noted that it was necessary to pay more attention to health security and realize that in the 21st century the ongoing climate crisis and the related problems of food security and water scarcity were not the only ones, with a possible health crisis likely to be even bigger than the former.

“We on this planet need definitely, first of all, a holistic approach to our health. Secondly, raising awareness, money, and support to health-related research — biological, biophysical sciences, and so on — and to accelerate the process to find solutions to many possible problems that we are going to face,” he said.

“It’s time that we look inside ourselves, care about ourselves alongside the planet. So, I will put together, with climate care, healthcare, climate security with health security. And the international community has to come together, under the United Nations, in the form of a COP (the Conference of the Parties, which is the annual Climate Change Conference), and we’ll see what we can do together.”