Thank you. Thank you very, very much. It is absolutely wonderful to be here and have a chance to see each and every one of you in person to thank you for everything you are doing on behalf of this incredibly important and valuable relationship between the United States and Albania. And thank you, Ambassador, for your leadership here in Tirana and thanks also to your wife and your daughter, and let me also express appreciation to DCM Henry Jardine.
Thank you all for the work you put into my visit here, because I've been wanting to come -- I told the President and the Prime Minister that I usually go to places we have some kind of problem with. We don't have any problems with Albania, and so I -- (applause) -- really had to advocate hard and say, "We must go to Albania." And the Ambassador is right -- it's a very busy and active time back home in the United States, but I am thrilled to have this chance to be here. It's much too short a visit. It's kind of like the appetizer, so I have to come back for the full banquet sometime in the future.
But I think you know how much the United States values our partnership and our friendship, not only with the Government of Albania but with the people of Albania, and it is something that I hold particularly dear. We share important military ties, we strongly supported Albania's membership in NATO, we are now strongly supporting Albania's membership in the European Union. What you're doing, every one of you, is to help us deepen and broaden that, to strengthen democracy, to promote and protect human rights, and to create more economic opportunity.
As I just said in the parliament, the elections next year will be very important for the advancement of democracy in Albania. And I know that elections have posed some challenges in the past, but the role that this Embassy and each of you, American and Albanian alike, can play in monitoring polling places, helping to tally votes, making it clear to our friends here that having a good, free, fair, credible election that meets international standards will skyrocket Albania forward on the path to EU accession.
And just as important as the friendship and partnership we have is what you're doing to promote social issues and civic engagement. I love the program called Albanians Coming Together Now, because this is a program the Embassy launched to bring together business, civil society, and concerned citizens to help strengthen the ties between the people and their government. And I also want to thank those of you who helped to make Tirana's recent LGBT conference such a success. We stand for human rights. We stand for relationships between people. And we believe that that serves as the core and foundation of a strong, lasting relationship.
I'm also pleased to be here on the first day of the month that marks the centennial of Albania's independence. I hear you are preparing a special surprise for the gala concert. I wish I could be here to see what it is, but Ambassador, let me know as soon as you can. And I also want to thank especially our Albanian colleagues. Will all of our Albanian colleagues who work here at the Embassy raise your hand, please, so we can give you a round of applause? (Applause.) I am so grateful to you. Many of you have been with us for years, decades, and as I say everywhere around the world, ambassadors come and go and secretaries come and go, but our locally employed staff provide the continuity, the memory bank, for every single post. And that's especially true here.
Will those of you have been with the Embassy since we opened our doors in 1991, will you raise your hands? Who's been here since 1991? We hired you right out of grade school. You have a -- (laughter) -- so 1991. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
I know that we have our State Department and USAID and our military and civilian agencies represented here. We also have some Peace Corps volunteers, I'm told. Do we have some Peace Corps volunteers here today? Thank you back there. Thank you for what you're doing. (Applause.)
And I was delighted to walk into a group of beautiful children who are part of our Foreign Service families and our Embassy family here. I bet a few of them might have gone trick or treating on the ridge last night and are probably still suffering from sugar overload. (Laughter.) But when I see that, when I walk into a room like this, it reminds me of why we do the work we do. And that was really my message in the parliament. We all have in a democracy an obligation to try to leave the country that we serve better off for the next generation. And really looking at the faces of those children reminded me of why I do the work I do, and why all of you do what you do, and make such a contribution to a better future for Albania, a better future for our relationship.
I know that my coming, even for a short visit, adds a lot of work to what you do every single day, and I understand the Marine Corps Ball is tomorrow, so I hope you get to relax a little bit. But I want you to know that even though we are far away, we follow closely what you're doing at this post. We care deeply about this relationship. We want to see Albania become a model not just for the region, but the world. We think it can. We think that the role that Albania can play, is playing, can really shape the history of Europe. The religious tolerance, the role women are playing, the vibrant democracy and economic activity since your freedom from Soviet oppression -- all of that is such a strong foundation to build on.
But now the next steps have to be taken, starting with good elections that reflect the will of the people. But then that's not enough. Whoever gets elected -- and we don't take sides in anybody's election -- we are just on the side of free and fair elections that reflect the will of the people -- and once people are elected, holding them to a high standard to produce results for the Albanian people, that's especially important for young people.
Young people the world over are wondering what kind of future they're going to have. There is no reason , after everything Albania has gone through -- with your independence a hundred years ago, all of the challenges and suffering the parents, grandparents, great grandparents, endured -- there is no reason that the future for young people in Albania should not be as bright as it could be anywhere in the world.
And so I am here to express full confidence and optimism in what is possible and to pledge that the United States, through a very active Embassy, will continue to provide support as you grow your democracy and make a real difference first for you, and now next for the rest of the world. Thank you all. (Applause.)