ELENA POPTODOROVA: RELATIONS WITH US MARKED UNIQUE DEVELOPMENT

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | May 30, 2002, Thursday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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Her Excellency Elena Poptodorova, Bulgaria's Ambassador to the US, presented her credentials to President George W. Bush on February 14, 2002. From August 2001 till February 2002 she was spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Poptodorova was MP in the 36th, 37th and 38th Parliaments. She has substantial political experience, having been a member of numerous international organizations. She is Italian and English philology graduate from the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski," afterwards she specialized in the filed of international relations at the University for National and World Economy. Speaks English, French, Italian and Russian.

H.E. Poptodorova answered to questions of novinite.com.

Q: Do you think that the extensive lobbying of Foreign Minister Passy coupled with the domestic politics of the Bulgarian government will accelerate Bulgaria's accession to NATO?

A: The bilateral relations between Bulgaria and the United States of America experienced a unique development since the end of last year. Important elements in this development were not only the visits of Foreign Minister Passy and of Defence Minister Svinarov, but also the recent very successful visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Washington as well as the delegation of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Nikolay Vassilev. After a period of focus on domestic political issues these high-level Bulgarian officials used the opportunity to lobby in Washington for our top foreign policy priority: NATO membership. My impression is that Bulgaria's message found a warm welcome here.

Q: You probably meet with many US officials on a daily basis. How do they view Bulgaria's NATO bid? Do you think that our country's chances for invitation are increasing?

A: I believe that Bulgaria's chances for receiving an invitation in November in Prague have increased in the last months, especially after the events of September 11. In his speech in Warsaw in June of last year President Bush announced his vision for an enlargement "from the Baltic to the Black Sea". The horrible terrorist attacks in New York and Washington proved the need for a broad anti-terrorist coalition and a widened zone of security. This goal can best be achieved by a robust NATO enlargement. Bulgaria acted as a de facto ally in the operation Enduring Freedom and thus gave a strong argument to the US administration that the country can be a needed and reliable NATO partner. The intensive efforts of the Bulgarian Government to meet the MAP criteria and the enhanced bilateral political dialogue are substantive for the positive attitude of this administration to Bulgaria's future membership.

Q: What do you think was achieved during the visit of Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg to Washington D.C. last month?

A: If I should briefly assess the visit of the Bulgarian PM Simeon Saxe Coburg-Gotha to USA I would say that the results went beyond the preliminary expectations. As you know the visit was the first visit of a Bulgarian PM on a presidential invitation since the Bulgarian Liberation in 1878. With such a visit you can always have two rather different outcomes - the first being that the visit would have been dominated by pure protocol or formal interest from our American counterparts. The second, which I think happened in this case, was a manifestation of genuine interest by the US hosts to PM Simeon Saxe Coburg-Gotha, as well as to Bulgaria itself, to our achievements and problems.

I would like to point out several practical results. The first is that President Bush, who met the Bulgarian Prime Minister on April 23rd, the Senators and the Congressmen, the financial and business circles, influential representatives of the American Jewish community with all of whom Simeon Saxe Coburg-Gotha met , reiterated the vision for a vast NATO enlargement and their support for Bulgaria's bid for NATO membership.

The second result is the establishment of a direct, personal contact between the Bulgarian PM and the President of the USA. And since I attended the meeting it seems to me that there was "chemistry" between the Bulgarian PM and the American President. You know they came to their first meeting from different worlds, they have different background, but yet they found a common ground, common interest, common words and expressions.

The third result is that at every meeting the PM had in Washington Bulgaria was praised for having acted as a de facto member of the Alliance during the Kosovo operation and especially in the anti-terrorist campaign.

We had the chance to hear from top officials of the most powerful state in the world that Bulgaria was on the right track. We received the message that the USA highly appreciated the Bulgarian Government's efforts and supports the ongoing structural reforms, the implementation of economic and military reforms, the commitment to fulfill NATO recommendations.

The fourth result is that the visit of the Bulgarian PM had also financial and economic implications. During the meeting with the President of the World Bank James Wolfenson he reaffirmed that the implementation of the government programme is consonant with the priorities of the development strategy coordinated with the Bank. At a meeting with the US Chamber of Commerce, representatives of major US companies declared their interest in developing business relations with Bulgaria.

Q: Bulgaria has declared itself and acted during the past couple of years as US partner. Do you expect that this might affect Bulgaria's relations with Russia as well as with other traditional partners?

A:Bulgaria acts as a credible and responsible partner not only with regard to specific countries but as a member of the international democratic community of nations. The last decade has proved Bulgaria's commitment to work for peace and stability throughout the world and we feel it as a privilege and recognition to serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Our partnership with the USA is not built up on division but rather on the vision that there is no alternative to global partnership and cooperation for peace, development and prosperity. Between Bulgaria and Russia there are no unresolved political issues. Democratic Russia is our major economic partner and we would like to develop further our relations on the basis of mutual respect and balance of interests.

Q: Do you think that there are opportunities for US Investments in Bulgaria that still haven't been used? In which fields, in your opinion, economic relations between the two countries can be enhanced?

A: There are significant opportunities for US investments in Bulgaria. US foreign direct investment in the country amounts to only USD 277 million to date, while German FDI is USD 563 million and Greek FDI - USD 541 million.

From the US investors point of view the prospective sectors are:

Cogeneration projects for heat and electric power - district heating companies can be upgraded to supply both electricity and steam through cogeneration technology,

Value-added food processing - Bulgaria offers substantial opportunity to utilize the country's agricultural production to manufacture a variety of processed foods: snacks and cereals, juices, poultry, soybean meal, pet food.

Tourist infrastructure - ski resorts, Black Sea summer resorts, hot springs, cultural tourism, environmental projects - municipal and government - owned water supply and sewerage companies throughout Bulgaria will be offering operating concessions, as they are in need of massive upgrade.

The economic relations between the two countries need enhancement by creating awareness of the opportunities that Bulgaria has to offer to the US investors, traders and tourists. We need more national advertising, exchange of business delegations, easy accessible database networks and partnership programs.

Q: Do you plan to organize a meeting of the Bulgarians, living in the United States (or at least with the Bulgarians in Washington D.C.)? How will you work to improve the communication between the embassy and the Bulgarians who live in US?

A: Indeed, what I sensed after my arrival to the States is that the Bulgarian immigrant community is growing and is becoming a tangible factor in the US, especially on the level of local communities. Everyday I am meeting people from the Bulgarian diaspora who share their problems and views. They expect understanding, help and support from us and the Embassy needs their support too. In this two-way process we are open to listen and cooperate with everyone who is genuinely interested to work in good faith for Bulgaria. I have already visited the Bulgarian communities in Chicago, Boston and Cincinnati and I intend to continue my visits to meet my countrymen all around the US.

We should be more creative and imaginative in working with the Bulgarian community - improving the spectrum of consular services, celebrating together important Bulgarian dates and events. The Embassy will co-organize a concert in Washington on the occasion of the 24-th of May. The Embassy is ready and willing to support every individual Bulgarian or organization in the US trying to promote Bulgarian identity and culture here. We have recently improved significantly our web-site - www.bulgaria-embassy.org which you are welcome to visit and use anytime. We are ready to consider suggestions since we are now working on further expanding the website capabilities and the opportunities to communicate with the Bulgarian community via Internet.

Q: Many Bulgarians who live in the United States read novinite.com. What would you like to tell them?

A: I would like to wish them every success in their life and career in the US and to assure them that our Embassy will be there for them when they need us. Let us all work together to promote Bulgaria, US-Bulgarian relations and a prosperous future for our fatherland - Bulgaria.
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