Albania wants US military to establish presence: defense minister

Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhacka (L) talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (R) during a NATO defense ministers' meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 8, 2017 (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS) (AFP)

Washington (AFP) - Albania wants to see a US military presence established in the Balkan country in order to counter influence from nations such as Russia, the Albanian defense minister said Tuesday.

Olta Xhacka, who met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, said NATO member Albania wanted to push back against Russian "destabilization" efforts in the region that include propaganda, investments and "hybrid actions."

"A very strong message needs to be sent that the western Balkans is a West-oriented region and that we all share and we need to protect the same principles and values, and we look forward to strengthen(ing) our strategic partnership," she said.

"You can count on us to be a very trusty ally ... Albania could really be a stronghold of the United States in the region. We believe that the time might be ripe for a footprint of United States in Albania," she added.

Xhacka, who also mentioned China, Iran and Turkey as countries whose influence Albania wanted to counter, said she envisioned the Adriatic country's making its land, air and naval bases available to the United States.

Also Tuesday, the European Union backed the opening of formal membership talks with Albania and Macedonia as the bloc looks to expand into the Balkans and grow for the first time in years.

"This is something that the Albanian people have aspired for many, many years and I believe that this perspective is crucial to move the country in the right direction," Xhacka said.