By Besar Likmeta
The timing of a decision to award former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a ‘National Flag’ for his support of Albania’s NATO membership has raised questions.
“You are closely linked with the support that the United States has given for… Albania’s membership of NATO,” Albanian President Bujar Nishani, said during the award ceremony.
Albania together with Croatia joined NATO in 2009, with strong support from the administration of former US President George Bush. Rumsfeld was US Secretary of State for Defense from 2001 until 2006.
Credited as one of the most influential members of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld has faced strong criticism for his key role in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld arrived in Tirana on Monday on the invitation of the Republican Party leader, Fatmir Mediu, a junior ally of the centre-right coalition of Prime Minster Sali Berisha.
Mediu is controversial in Albania. Indicted for abuse of power for his role as defence minister in the affair of the fatal the blast in the village of Gerdec on March 15, 2008 he was never tried, having used his parliamentary immunity protection to evade charges.
The March 2008 blast at the ammunition demolition plant in the village of Gerdec killed 26 people, injured more than 300 and left over 3,000 homeless.
However, speaking at conference on NATO, on Monday morning, Rumsfeld had praise for both Mediu and Berisha.
“Prime Minister [Sali Berisha] is a precious asset…and Mediu always looks like a young man,” Rumsfeld said.
The opposition Socialists condemned Rumsfeld’s visit as a political stunt arranged by lobbying companies, aimed at boosting Berisha’s and Mediu’s ratings ahead of the June 23 general election.
“Rumsfeld’s visit in Tirana today is closely connected with the election campaign,” Socialist MP Auron Tare wrote on his Facebook page.
“This visit has been arranged by the [US] lobbyists of the Democratic Party and what we don’t know is the price tag and whether it is being paid for out of public funds,” he added.