Parliament assigns talks with US on acquisition of new fighter aircraft

MPs tasked prime minister to draw up the draft agreement and conduct the negotiations

In a 130-84 vote with no abstentions, Parliament Wednesday assigned the government to draw up a draft international agreement and hold negotiations with the United States on Bulgaria's acquisition of a new type of fighter aircraft, F-16V, Block 70. The negotiations mandate was supported by the MPs of GERB, 23 MPs of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), 11 MPs of the United Patriots, and two independent MPs.

The MPs who voted against were 66 from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), four MPs from Volya and 14 MPs from the United Patriots.

Parliament tasked the prime minister to make arrangements and come up with a team to draw up the draft agreement and conduct the negotiations. On the team will be the ministers of defence, economy, foreign affairs, and finance. The draft agreement may deviate from the initial spending requirements.
MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said that his party categorically supports the motion and Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Defence Committee Chairman Konstantin Popov (GERB) described as absolutely right the Cabinet's decision to include Parliament in the decision-making at this stage. He listed as advantages of the US offer that it proposes a full package with armament and that the negotiations with Washington D. C. can continue until a better price is agreed on.

GERB Floor Leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov noted that ten NATO member countries have purchased F-16 aircraft, while only two have chosen Gripen aircraft. He thanked the MRF for their consistent Euro-Atlantic position and support over the years.

The Bulgarian Air Force Commander, Major-General Tsanko Stoykov, confirmed that stopping the aircraft acquisition procedure now would delay the Air Force's needed modernization.

At the end of the debate, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that political scheming has prevailed over national interests and security. He underscored that it is important to buy not just any but the best fighter jet for the Air Force. For there to be balance of forces in the Balkans, Bulgaria has to buy the best and most modern weaponry, he said, adding that the service life of F-16 aircraft is over 40 years.

After the plenary sitting, Karakachanov told reporters that his first meeting as part of the negotiation process with the United States will be held in Brussels in mid-February. There is no deadline for the negotiations, he specified. In his words, the aircraft cannot cost more than the price indicated in the US' offer. Bulgaria has been assured that the price will be reduced but it is a matter of negotiations by how much, Karakachanov explained.

In a declaration on the matter released Wednesday, the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria say that Parliament's decision on the acquisition of F-16V, Block 70 aircraft - seen as a prelude to F-35 - is as significant as the decision to join NATO or the counter-terrorism coalition after the 9/11 attacks.

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