What Was Tillerson’s Call to Rama About?

According to a brief statement on his official website, Prime Minister received yesterday a 20-minute phone call from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The statement lists all the perfunctory elements of the call: Tillerson congratulated Rama with his election victory, Rama gave Tillerson “a broad reflection on the regional situation,” and the two discussed Albania’s contribution to the NATO.

There was, however, no specific reason for the call. Only last week, Prime Minister Rama has spoken in a bilateral meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro.

A plausible conversation topic and actual motive behind the phone call is the US government’s increasing tensions with several states, including North Korea and Iran. In recent months, Secretary Tillerson had already “slipped” that he wanted regime change in Iran. In response to a question of House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ted Poe (R-TX), he stated:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

This is precisely where Albania comes into the picture. Our country houses a large contingent of the Iranian opposition movement Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), which is keen to overthrow the current Iranian regime. In March, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh visited the MEK in Albania, and known defense hawk US Senator John McCain did the same in April. In both cases the Albanian government did not report these visits in their official statements.

During a speech for the assembled MEK members, McCain stated:

There is no doubt that the Iranians are attempting to stifle freedom and democracy throughout the region. There is no doubt that the people in this room have suffered. They have suffered not only themselves but in the loss of their loved ones because of the Iranian tyranny, and I express my condolences to everyone in this room who has lost a loved one as a result of the Iranian tyranny and terrorism. […]

Some day Iran will be free. Some day we will all gather in that square.

This increased interaction with the MEK in Albania, and recent actions of the US, including supporting Saudi Arabia and facilitating the boycott of perceived Iran-ally Qatar, seem to indicate a shift in Iran policy. Although the contours of this policy are still in the making, there is little doubt that the MEK – and therefore Albania – will have a role in its implementation.