Bulgaria, US start strategic dialogue

Sofia insists on visa waiver and will also negotiate lower LNG prices

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa opened a high-level Bulgaria-US Strategic Dialogue in Sofia on 8 January. Participating is a US delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central European Affairs and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Matthew Boyse.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale was expected to arrive in Sofia for the meeting but was unable to attend because of the situation in Iraq.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs will come to Sofia by end-February or beginning of March to discuss visa waiver for Bulgarian citizens, said both PM Boyko Borissov and H.E. Herro Mustafa at the start of the meeting. Borissov also said that within a little over a year the visa issue will hopefully be closed. He quoted the abolition of visas for Canadians as an example which was also to Bulgaria's advantage. He further reminded that so far it was always Bulgaria that brought about the issue, but at the meeting in Washington President Donald Trump raised it himself for the first time.

It transpired from Borissov's commentaries that Bulgaria will take the decision to acquire 20% interest in the LNG terminal near Alexandroupoli. Preferential, lower prices for LNG will be negotiated with the US separately.

According to the information quoted by Borissov, in 2019 Bulgaria has purchased 400m cubic metres of the US liquefied gas, as in January 2020 alone the volume amounts to 100m cubic metres. Bulgaria's participation in the LNG terminal will guarantee three to five tenders on the free market.

Borissov also commented on the situation in Iraq and announced that Bulgaria will comply with the decision of the parliament in Iraq and the call for the withdrawal of NATO and US troops from the country. In his opinion, only peace may resolve the precarious situation in the Middle East.

On her part, H.E. Herro Mustafa said that the US wants to see Bulgaria as a strong and prosperous country which deserves the best possible future.

Matthew Boyse, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, assured that the US sets high value on Bulgaria as a friend and strategic partner and wishes to strengthen the bilateral cooperation.

“Energy security is national security - our common goal is to make Bulgaria a real natural gas hub and the guarantor of regional energy security. Without monopolists, be them local or foreign, who work on nonmarket principles,” Boyse commented.

The meeting comprised five sessions with topics on the agenda such as defence, security, economy, trade and supremacy of law.

“To me it is a privilege to be here for the opening of this strategic meeting and the start of a dialogue between the US and Bulgaria. David Hale was unable to come this morning. He really wanted to take part but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to remain in Washington to tackle the situation in Iraq,” said H.E. Herro Mustafa at the meeting with PM Boyko Borissov. “Everything that we will discuss today with our allies and partners will be to the benefit of the Bulgarian people,” she said further. “The beautiful Bulgarian people I meet every day deserve the best for themselves and their children. This is the real essence of these talks,” H.E. Mustafa said in Bulgarian.

During the talks on the defence sector, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov stressed the importance of the road map for the bilateral cooperation which is being prepared between Bulgaria and the US. It covers a span of 10 years and is aimed at outlining concrete actions and deadlines for their accomplishment. It is expected that the Road Map project will be ready in April, after that it will be discussed by the defence administrations of both countries till June. The final copy is to be ratified in September.

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