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Press Conference With Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Bulgarian Council of Ministers Building
Sofia, Bulgaria
May 15, 2003

PRIME MINISTER: Ladies and Gentlemen, Secretary of State, with these few introductory words I would like to greet you and welcome you once again most cordially, and I would like to underline how happy we are, we, the Bulgarian Government, to be able to host you here today. I would also like to underline that this visit to Bulgaria is appreciated by everyone. We appreciate the role that our country has played in the past few months. As I have already told the Secretary, we are also commemorating the centennial of diplomatic relations. This is a wonderful occasion. So I am doubly happy at this coincidence. Since we are limited in time, I would be very happy if the Secretary would take the floor and thus allow more time for questions.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. It's a great pleasure for me to be here today, and it is a wonderful opportunity for me to celebrate the one hundred years of diplomatic relations that have existed between Bulgaria and the United States. I traveled through Bulgaria as an army officer many, many years ago, in the early 70's, at a time when our relations were not so friendly. And the changes in Bulgaria since those days are truly outstanding. And so is the change in our relationship. I want to thank my friends, President Purvanov, Foreign Minister Passy for inviting me to be here this morning for this historic occasion. And what a perfect year for all of this to be happening in. The United States just last week voted to ratify Bulgaria's candidacy for NATO membership. Bulgaria's NATO membership will formalize what is already a very close relationship and, in fact, a de facto alliance with the United States. We will support Bulgaria's commitment to fight corruption, to reform its legal system, and to promote economic growth - all key steps for prospective NATO members. Bulgaria has been a strong right arm in the war against terrorism and in the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein. Bulgaria has supported these efforts at the Security Council in New York and on the ground in Afghanistan. In fact, Bulgaria proved itself willing to send its sons and daughters to this effort, the most profound commitment that a country can make. And I know that this hasn't always been easy, and I want to publicly thank the Government of Bulgaria, and the people of Bulgaria for their courageous stand. As President Bush told the Prime Minister in the Oval Office recently, "We don't forget our friends". We've had some good talks today on Iraq's future, as well as on Bulgaria's plans for full integration into a Europe that is more and more 'whole, free and at peace'. And I had the opportunity to say to the Prime Minister how much we value the friendship that exists between out two countries, to bring greetings to him and the Bulgarian people from President Bush and I look forward to the celebration that we will all be enjoying in a few moments. Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you get near the end of your trip, can you give us your assessment of the situation in the Middle East. Some people might look at the violence and at the rhetoric and say that not much has changed. So it's really two questions. What assessment are you taking to President Bush, and what is your reaction to Prime Minister Sharon's comment that the question of settlements is not on the horizon?

SECRETARY POWELL: What I will report to President Bush, and I've already sent President Bush several reports, is that we continue to have a difficult situation in the Middle East. And that the conversations that will be taking place, I hope, later this week between Prime Minister Abaas and Prime Minister Sharon will be important and the conversation that Prime Minister Sharon will be having with President Bush next Tuesday will be important. We're at a moment of opportunity. We have a new Prime Minister in the Palestinian authority, Prime Minister Abaas, and this is what we have been working for, and what we asked the Palestinian people to do. The Palestinian legislature did that. And this is the time for both sides to be prepared to make compromises, to step forward, to take steps that will move us down the path of peace. The President and the United States is committed to a road map that we have presented, a road map that will lead to the vision that President Bush laid out in his speech on 24 June. And I hope that in the upcoming conversations that I just made reference to, people will be able to clarify their positions, they will find a way to go forward. We can't just stay where we are. We can't miss this moment of opportunity. And so that is my report to President Bush, and I am confident that President Bush is looking forward to discussing these issues with Prime Minister Sharon next Tuesday.

QUESTION: Bulgarian National TV. Mr. Secretary, what is your assessment of the role that Bulgaria has played in modern-day transatlantic relations?

SECRETARY POWELL: In my perspective, Bulgaria has played a very, very important role. I have valued very much the dialogue that I have been able to maintain on a regular basis with your distinguished Foreign Minister and your Ambassador in Washington. That was a source of great support to me at the Security Council as we debated the various Iraqi resolutions to have Bulgaria on our side as co-sponsor of resolutions as well as a strong advocate for taking the necessary steps in the face of such intransigence on the part of the Iraqi regime. It would have been easy for a small country such as Bulgaria to just lean back, step aside and say, "We will not get involved, we'll just watch this." But Bulgaria knew what the right thing to do was and it stood strong and stalwart. And we will never forget that. So, I believe that Bulgaria despite of its relatively small size is playing a big role in the transatlantic alliance, and I think that is recognized by the unanimous vote that came out of the United States Senate for the accession protocol that will move Bulgaria closer to full NATO membership. And it is for that reason that I am especially pleased to be here, not only for the centennial celebration, but to recognize Bulgaria's contribution to the transatlantic alliance and especially to helping the United States at a time when we needed the assistance and help from friends, even small friends.

QUESTION: If I can ask you both about the resolution that is under consideration at the Security Council. Mr. Secretary, as you go through the current negotiations and modifications of the text, are you willing to consider suspending the sanctions for a period of time before ending them, or for example, of an expanded role for the UN Coordinator with enough financial responsibilities? Mr. Prime Minister, did you share any views on the draft resolution with the Secretary?

SECRETARY POWELL: We did discuss the draft Resolution briefly. The idea of suspending rather than lifting sanctions has been raised by a number of the Security Council members. We think it's much cleaner to lift the sanctions. But as part of the discussions and negotiations process we will look at the idea of initially suspending sanctions. The important thing is to be able to begin moving oil out of Iraq in due course in order to generate revenue for the Iraqi people to benefit them solely, and also to make sure that the refineries keep running so that gasoline, propane and other oil products that are needed by the people can be produced by the refineries. So we're anxious to be able to move the oil in order to generate revenue and lifting sanctions we believe is the best way to do that. But we will see what the argument is for suspending sanctions and see if that makes any sense. But our preference is to lift and that is why we put it in the resolution that way.

PRIME MINISTER: Just as the Secretary of State has said, we need to make up for time lost, and we have to clarify and streamline some technical and administrative details or divergence of opinion. So, the necessary fuel has to be produced which will make it possible to provide financing that would be used to improve the well being of Iraqi society.

QUESTION: Bulgarian National Radio. I would like to ask the Secretary of State whether the United States sees Bulgaria as a good place for the deployment of American military bases and if yes, when are we going to see the first decisions to that effect?

SECRETARY POWELL: Over the past ten years the United States has significantly reduced the size of our forces in Europe. At the same time that the area of the North Atlantic Alliance has increased with the addition of new members. So it is quite appropriate to review how our forces are distributed throughout Europe and see whether or not there is a more logical distribution of our forces. Not for the purpose of creating a new boundary or a new line across Europe, but just for the purpose of making smart decisions with respect to the distribution of our forces. We might want to put in place facilities that give us access to training areas in other countries, or that facilitate the movement of our forces through Europe to other parts of the world, as we change the strategy of NATO, not to deal with the Soviet Union, but to deal with terrorism, to deal with regional crises in other parts of the world. Members of the Military Command in Europe have made some assessment visits here in Bulgaria and in other nations in the region but no decisions have been made. And I don't think any decisions will be made for some time yet, as our analysis is being conducted and, of course, no decisions will be made until there has been the fullest consultations and agreement with out Bulgarian friends. And I don't think anyone should see this in the manner of a huge new military city going up somewhere. We are much more modest in our thinking and we are looking for access and modest facilities that would allow us to train with host nation forces or give us temporary access, as we are moving through to another part of the world. But all of these matters are under consideration by my colleagues at the Pentagon and our military commanders in Europe.

QUESTION: Michael (inaudible), Agence France Presse Agency. Just to follow up on that question. Even if it there's not going to be any major bases set up, would that represent a kind of sea change in the way that Europe is aligned, in the way that, perhaps, the United States sees Europe, in terms of a new Europe and an old Europe.

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I would not see it that way at all. It is not a way of dividing Europe into an old Europe and a new Europe. It really is to make military sense out of our deployment. I was saying to the Prime Minister earlier that when I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff some 10 or 12 years ago, I saw the Cold War come to an end and the Iron Curtain come down. And in a period of two and a half years working with the then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, we brought back home to the United States some 200,000 troops. And we emptied out all those bases, turned them over to the host countries. And the troops that were left were essentially living in a base structure that hasn't been fundamentally realigned. A base structure that was founded on the Cold War strategy and to some extent also left over from the end of World War II. And so it is quite appropriate for us now to examine all of the new NATO area to see how we can best to distribute our troops. Not for the purpose of creating a division or somehow formalizing a division between old Europe, new Europe, East Europe, West Europe. It is all one Europe, one NATO, one Alliance, one Europe whole, free and at peace. That is our commitment and our obligation.

QUESTION: My question is addressed to the Secretary. Obviously, the fight against terrorism is a determining factor in United States foreign policy. What role can Bulgaria play in the anti-terrorist strategy of the USA and how will that affect financial assistance to Bulgaria?

SECRETARY POWELL: Bulgaria is playing a role in our global war against terrorism and there is more that all nations can do. We can do more with respect to intelligence sharing, with respect to information sharing, with respect to cooperative law-enforcement activities, with respect to being vigilant in terms of who is traveling through our countries. There is no country that can stand aside and say, "We have nothing to do with the global war against terrorism". Any place that a terrorist finds, a friendly atmosphere, where they don't have to worry about law enforcement, where they don't have to worry about financial controls, where there is a lack of transparency in the society, the terrorist will gravitate into that place, try to find a safe haven. And so I think it is incumbent on every civilized country in the world today to be a part of the global war against terrorism. Because none of us are safe, none of us can be free of the threat of terrorism unless we are part of the coalition. And none of us want to allow our country, whether it is Bulgaria, the United States, Afghanistan, anywhere, anymore to be a haven for terrorists, to plan their evil deeds, and from their country set out on attacks that kill innocent people for criminal reasons. So I think Bulgaria is playing an important role and can do even more. And we're prepared to assist Bulgaria financially and in other ways to be a contributing member in the global war against terrorism.



Released on May 15, 2003

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