TIRANA, Albania, June 10 (UPI) -- U.S. President George W. Bush Sunday told Albanians in Tirana he is committed in his support for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
"Independence is the goal, and that's what the people of Kosovo need to know," Bush said at a news conference after being greeted with a hero's welcome as the first U.S. president to visit the Balkan nation of Albania.
Bush praised Albania as a country that has "cast off the shackles of a very oppressive society and is now showing the world what's possible."
Standing alongside Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Bush expressed support for Kosovo to gain independence from Serbia. Kosovo is mostly ethnic Albanian. Bush's comments were aimed at Russia, which is an ally of Serbia and objects to independence for Kosovo.
Of Albania's desire to join NATO, Bush said he and Albania's leaders agreed more political and military reforms were needed before membership could be granted.
For Bush's several-hour visit, U.S. flags were draped over buildings in the capital of Tirana, a set of commemorative stamps were issued and a street was renamed in his honor. Albania is a strong ally of Bush's "war on terror," has tripled its troop numbers in Afghanistan to 140 and has about 120 soldiers in Iraq.