US Ambassador in Sofia James Warlick: Bulgaria Is Undiscovered Jewel
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick for Novinite's "International Survey: Bulgaria-USA."
Ambassador Warlick arrived in Sofia on January 21, 2010 to assume the duties of the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria.
Prior to this assignment, Ambassador Warlick served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) from 2006 to 2009, with responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy at the United Nations and a number of other multilateral organizations.
Previously, Warlick was Director of the Office of European Security and Political Affairs, responsible for political-military and security issues for Europe and the former Soviet Union, including NATO, OSCE, and related arms control and nonproliferation policy issues (2005-2006). While Director of United Nations Political Affairs in IO during 2003-2005, Warlick also served as Principal Advisor to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer from January 2004 to July 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq. Other assignments have included: Consul General, U.S. Embassy, Moscow; Director for Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the European Affairs Bureau; Acting Minister-Counselor/ Deputy Counselor for Political Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Germany; Special Assistant to the Secretary of State; Operations Center Watch Officer; Consular Officer, Philippines; and Political Officer, Bangladesh.
Prior to his State Department service, Mr. Warlick served as Deputy Representative of the Asia Foundation in Washington, DC and the Philippines. He was also a Foreign Affairs analyst in the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress.
Mr. Warlick is a graduate of Stanford University (1977), holds a Master of Letters in Politics from Wadham College (1979), Oxford University, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (1980) from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
It has been almost a year since your appointment as the Ambassador of the USA to Bulgaria. How do you assess your term in Sofia so far?
I've been here since January, and I've loved every minute of it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a great job, I love Bulgaria. I like not only dealing with our issues but getting to know the country and the people. This has been a great opportunity for me.
There have been a lot of statements by senior Bulgarian and American government officials that the relations between the two countries are about as good as they could be. What does really stand behind that, what should this be taken to mean? What is the substance of these good relations?
Of course, we are colleagues and friends. We are in NATO together, we work together on issues around the world. I just came from a press conference with Interior Minister Tsvetanov, and I said in the area of organized crime and corruption the level of cooperation has never been higher. And that's evidenced by multiple operations, many of which never make the news. There is a high level of operational cooperation.
I gave two examples at the press conference today. One was an arrest that just took place of a convicted US felon, who is here in Bulgaria. She is now apprehended and behind bars, and is awaiting extradition to the United States.
The most interesting part of that story is that she had kidnapped a child and brought him to Bulgaria. The good news is that that child has now been saved and is returned to the United States. Here is an extraordinary example of cooperation between our countries.
The second example I gave was also very interesting. We have an American FBI expert on cyber security embedded in the Ministry of Interior's cyber crime unit. This is unique. This hasn't been done in Central and Eastern Europe before. It's one of our leading experts working with cyber crime experts here in Bulgaria to address problems such as child pornography and copyright infringement. It is indeed a very high level of cooperation.
You can look at other areas, too, where we work together. This is a work in progress. We need to continue to build this level of cooperation, and not just on law enforcement but also in many other areas. One thing that I've talked about a lot is people to people cooperation, and that is also something that is important for our relationship.
If we look at defense cooperation – how would you describe Bulgaria's role in America's strategy in Eurasia? What is the importance of Task Force East?
Let me say – it is not an American strategy. We are working together with our NATO allies, including Bulgaria. We face common challenges around the world. Look, we are fighting together side by side in Afghanistan today. In the past, we've been together in Iraq, and where brave Bulgarians lost their lives in the raging war against terrorism. There will be other challenges in the future.
The reason that Bulgaria has agreed with us to host joint facilities is that it is important that we work together, train together, and exercise together so when the time comes – whether it is Afghanistan or somewhere else – we will all be prepared really to work together. I am very pleased with the level of security cooperation between our governments. I would expect nothing less, however, from a NATO ally.
Bulgaria appears to have pretty limited resources in military terms. What is your assessment of the Bulgarian contribution in Afghanistan? Would you say that Bulgaria has been a real asset in those efforts?
Of course! The Defense Minister just came back from Afghanistan where he witnessed for himself the very important role that Bulgarian troops are playing in both Kabul and Kandahar. We welcome that very much.
Now, of course, there is more to that to be done. We are working with the Bulgarian military to help them modernize, to make sure that they are well-trained and equipped so that they can contribute even more to the Alliance.
NATO's Summit at the end of the week is expected to provide answers with regard to the NATO/US missile shield in Europe. But as far as Bulgaria is concerned, are there indications that it will be asked to host specific elements of the shield?
That's very premature. As you know there are no bilateral discussions or negotiations on this. At this point we need to wait the outcome of the Lisbon meeting. I believe there will be a communiqu? to map out some way forward on missile defense, and then we will take it from there.
Bulgaria just moved forward on its energy deals with Russia with Putin's visit in Sofia on November 13, 2010. You have stated that more transparency is needed with respect to these projects. What should that transparency entail in your view?
Well, it is not just South Stream. I think it's important for all energy projects, including those involving American companies, for the government to be fully transparent. I think that the government is making a sincere, honest effort to do that, and I appreciate that.
It is also important for the Bulgarian people. These kinds of investments – not just South Stream but many others as well – involve millions, maybe billions of leva from Bulgarian taxpayers. I think they deserve to know where this money is going, how it's been spent. For far too long, especially in the energy sector, there have been secret backroom negotiations and deals struck that no one knows of even today.
I think that this government understands that, and is making an effort to be transparent. In that regard I congratulate Economy Minister Traikov because he is doing a good job to make public a lot of information, and that is a change from the past.
So basically the issues here have to do with the general ways of doing things in the energy sector rather than with Russian interests?
The relationship with Russia is an extremely important one for Bulgaria. Bulgaria needs to work with Russia for years to come as an energy supplier. Russia is a reliable energy supplier. We want that relationship between Bulgaria and Russia to be strong and cooperative. It's important for energy security for Bulgaria and for the region. So we are fully supportive of that.
But I come back to a point that I have made many times in the past. It is also important to diversify your energy sources. I hope the government is truly committed – and I have seen some good progress – on arrangements for interconnectors with Greece, with Turkey, with Romania – those are important steps in diversification.
Also, there are renewable and alternative sources of energy that provide a different kind of diversification. Those are also important to pursue. I believe the government wants to do that. These are not steps that can be taken overnight. We'd like to work with the Bulgarian government in any way possible to make sure that there is energy diversification.
Judging by media reports and some statements in the past months and years, there have been "American equivalents", to put it that way, to the three major Russian-sponsored energy projects in Bulgaria (the South Stream gas transit pipeline, the Belene Nuclear Power Plant, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline). There have been reports that Chevron and/or Exxon Mobil would want to acquire a share of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline when, or if, it is completed; that Westinghouse would want to build a 7th reactor at the Kozloduy NPP; and then of course, there is Nabucco which is a US-backed EU project. Should we expect to see any real substance in any of these?
On the issue of Kozloduy, that's a decision for the government of Bulgaria. If they issue a tender for construction of new reactors, I am sure that Westinghouse will take a very careful look at it. Short of a formal tender, I am not sure what role Westinghouse has here.
Burgas-Alexandroupolis – I understand that the Prime Minister has environmental concerns. I am not sure whether that project is going forward.
With regard to Nabucco – we are fully committed to Nabucco and the Southern Corridor. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have come out recently saying this is a high priority. We need to move ahead on the Southern Corridor. That is also part of the diversification of energy sources.
Many in Bulgaria have hoped for more massive American investments in the Bulgarian economy to reflect and match the close political ties. What does Bulgaria have to work on to get attract more investors from the US?
These are very difficult economic times in Bulgaria and the United States but there are companies that are interested in making significant long-term investments in Bulgaria.
In the energy sector, for example, the American firm AES has already made significant investments and is prepared to make more. We see in the high-tech area companies like Hewlett-Packard making significant investments and enlarging their operations. I believe there are other countries equally interested in doing that.
Bulgaria for its part has to create a climate for foreign investment. One aspect of that is the rule of law. Companies need to know that their investments are protected. There also need to be incentives. There is a competition in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Believe me, Romania, Hungary, Serbia are trying to attract many of the same investors.
The government of Bulgaria needs to make some strategic decisions that will attract these, I think, significant investments. I believe it is prepared to do so, I hope so.
Could you go a bit into detail in the two specific cases - Chevron's interest in shale gas exploration in Bulgaria and AES's intention to build a solar park near Silistra. Could you elaborate on those – what is needed on Bulgaria's part to attract such important investments more smoothly?
In the case of the AES investment in solar – let first add that if AES is able to construct this facility, this will be the largest solar facility in Europe. It will put Bulgaria in the vanguard, the leader of solar energy in Europe. The renewable energy law that is under consideration by the Parliament needs to be harmonized with other countries in the European Union.
This is not just about AES, this is about many investors. If they are going to invest significant amounts of money in Bulgaria, they want to ensure that there is a level playing field, and that they can have a predictable return on their investment. We hope that the government will pass a renewable energy law that provides for this harmonization.
With regard to Chevron the process is under way for them to be approved for exploration of shale gas. I would say it is not just about Chevron either. There are other companies, including non-American companies, that want to come to Bulgaria to explore.
I hope that that process can be expedited to the greatest extent possible. It's important for the government and people to know if there are shale gas resources under the earth, and what the quality is. That seems to be a very important piece of the puzzle with regard to energy resources for the future.
So it is generally a matter of straightening out legislation?
No, I think it is a process. In the case of shale, there is a process that needs to be pursued that will provide approval for exploration rights for Chevron and other companies. The question is how long that process will take. I think Chevron of course wants to abide by all the laws but they also hope that the process can be done as expeditiously as possible.
US investments in Bulgaria have been pretty strong in the field of IT and services outsourcing but little in manufacturing. At the same time, the Bulgarian government has started developing a large industrial zone near Sofia with the Chinese authorities. China is becoming more and more involved in Eastern Europe with similar projects. Is that a matter of geopolitical concerns for the US? Should Eastern European countries be careful with [those] that kinds of projects?
We live in a global economy now where our economies are so interlinked that it is no longer about the United States, or China, or Russia, or Germany. In fact, investments come to markets where profits can be made. If companies can be confident that if they come to Bulgaria there will be a return on their investment, they will come – Chinese, American, German – I have no doubt about that.
It is a global economy. HP, for example, has decided that it will locate here in Bulgaria its regional operations. Other companies are doing the same thing. But, believe me, in Bucharest and Belgrade, they too would like to have investments come. We are all interlinked here, there is no particular concern about any one particular country making investments.
Going back to one of the things you mentioned at the beginning – about the current Bulgarian government. You talked about quite a bit in the recent months about the efforts of the government to crack down on corruption and organized crime. What do you think is a fair description of the situation – is it that the government, the executive is trying really hard, and the judiciary is the problematic link here?
I believe that the Ministry of Interior has taken some brave steps in addressing organized crime and corruption. I said that the streets of Bulgaria are safer because of the work of the Ministry of Interior, and Minister Tsvetanov personally has done a great deal to ensure that issues of organized crime and corruption are addressed.
You need to have prosecutors who are capable, dedicated, and willing to pursue justice. And you need a judiciary that is also above reproach, that is not only competent but also honest beyond question. Unfortunately there are many Bulgarians who do not have confidence in the judiciary, according to public opinion polls. And rightly so, given the past track record. That's why judicial reform is important. That's why it is important to ensure that judges on the bench are qualified and honest. We need a process to do that.
But let me say that the vast majority of the judges in this country, prosecutors as well, are honest and capable people. But you do need this process to ensure that those coming to the bench or prosecutorial service are honest and capable. Those kinds of changes do not come overnight, in fairness to this government.
There has to be a sustained effort over a long period of time to address these issues. There will be setbacks along the way, everyone understands that, including in arrests when it comes to organized crime and corruption. This is not easy. We in the United States have struggled with this for years ourselves, as have many other countries. This is nothing new. But it does take a sustained effort. This is establishing a real rule of law takes years and decades. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
With respect to your participation in the hit Bulgarian TV series "Staklen Dom" ("Glass Home") – how did you decide to go for it? Is your character different from you?
It is great to see a serial on Bulgarian TV that is 100% Bulgarian, and is done, produced and directed by real professionals. The actors and actresses are the very best in the business. Bulgaria should be proud of this show. I believe it can air in the United States.
For me as a non-professional actor it's been pure joy to be on the show. I've learned a lot. I've loved filming the episodes. The people are good there, they have been very patient with me.
And I hope my character as American Ambassador appeals to the Bulgarian people. I have enjoyed it. I have one more episode coming up for this season, and I am not sure whether I will be winning any Academy Awards. But let me tell you, I've had a great time doing this show.
What would be the most important thing that Americans should know about Bulgaria?
In my nine months here I don't think that I've met an American, either a visitor or a person who lives here, who has not really loved Bulgaria. It's remarkable. And I say that not just as US Ambassador. I say this about normal people that come here.
I think that Bulgaria is a treasure, an undiscovered jewel. People in the United States don't know anything about Bulgaria, they can't find it on the map, and if asked to say something about Bulgaria, I think they wouldn't have any real idea about the country. But after they've come here, they can see for themselves it is a different story.
I think they realize that the country itself is beautiful, you know, the mountains, the forests, the beautiful sea, the history is extraordinary here. And maybe most importantly, it is really about the people. They are very friendly and warm and accessible. It's a great place to be American Ambassador. I am proud to be here but I am also having a great time in my position.
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DrFaust, you wrote: "Seems his Excellency is enjoying his time in Bulgaria. And it also seems that he has not too much work. Someone who would be very busy wouldn't have the time to act in a soap opera."
Nah, you might be younger than me, but seen from a mental point of view, you sound like an old pensioner.
This US guy is doing a great job matching the diplomatic challenges in a swamp like Bulgaria.
Firstly, he bothered to learn the language.
Secondly, he is always prepared, when "confronted" by the Bulgarian press.
Thirdly, he says, that he loves Bulgaria.
The latter indicates a brain surplus, i.e. the ability to operate on altered states of consiousness and just enjoy the ride.
The Ambassador and other American should spend time with some of the millions of Bulgarians living literally on the edge -- or in extreme poverty, from many pensioners to nearly all of the ethnic Roma communities. They don't think the country is much of a jewel.
Not a word here is mentioned about the crisis in higher education, and what the American government is actually doing and could be doing to help more. Nothing about how the Ambassador really sees the student protests, the protests by Academy of Science members, the protests by doctors. The endless brain drain of well-trained professionals, in part to North America. The huge lack of North Americans working here on direct local contracts, given the remarkably low salaries (which of course are great for 'outsourcing' ventures). These matters need candid comment.