Thank you very much, Your Majesty, Madam Deputy Prime Minister, Excellencies, friends, members of the Atlantic Club, members of the press. Thank you all so much for coming, thank you for this very warm welcome. Бих искал да благодаря на правителството и народа на България за много топлото посрещане на мен и семейството ми. I am very happy to be here at the Atlantic Club to give my first speech as U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, and to continue in the tradition of U.S. Ambassadors using this venue as their first opportunity to speak publicly. And I’d like to pay a special note of thanks to Solomon and Gergana Passy, for their role, their contributions to Bulgaria, to our Alliance, to our bilateral relationship. They are too numerous to mention, but also too historic to fail to recognize. To the entire Atlantic Club leadership team, this week marks the 25th anniversary of the Atlantic Club, and the 67th anniversary of NATO’s founding. You have been a beacon shining the way for all of us in this past quarter of a century.
I cannot fail to acknowledge His Majesty and his role in achieving the dream, the goal of Bulgaria integrated with Europe, a full member of the Atlantic Alliance, a historical role that we are all deeply grateful for, and I think worthy of special mention.
I know this is a time of challenges and crises. We need to face them together, as Allies, as friends, as partners. And as members of societies that share a set of values: peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity. And as people who share the original vision with which we ended the lengthy and awful Cold War: One Europe, whole, free and at peace.
These are not easy times for anyone in the region, and certainly not for Bulgarians. So let me say from the outset that America stands with you and will support the choices you have made: for Europe, for the Transatlantic Alliance, and for a free and more hopeful future for you, your children, and your grandchildren.
And let me add that America’s commitment to the European project is fundamental. From the first days after the horrors of the Second World War, we stood with Jean Monnet, Robert Schumann, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Paul Henri Spaak and so many others to support the vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous continent, one linked to North America by bonds of friendship, shared values and solemn defense commitments. We stand by that vision now, and will do everything we can to help Bulgaria pursue its future as a full member already of the union, and as an indispensable part of the North Atlantic Alliance.
To very briefly answer some of our critics, let me add that we are here as your friends, we care deeply about your security and your prosperity, and we are not going away or losing our commitment.
In that regard, let me say that I am very optimistic about Bulgaria’s future. As your great poet Hristo Botev once said, “Българският народ не е в гроба на своето минало, а в люлката на своето бъдеще.”
I had the opportunity to spend some time in Bulgaria shortly after the transition to democracy in the early 1990s, and I can see the progress that has been made – incredible progress – politically, economically, and socially. In fact, I remember when it would have been almost inconceivable to talk about Bulgaria as a full member of NATO and the European Union, about Bulgarians being free to travel, work and study anywhere in Europe. About the enormous improvements to the quality of the infrastructure and the quality of life. And about the broadened and deepened U.S.-Bulgarian relationship, from the American University in Blagoevgrad to the thousands of Bulgarian young people who travel to the United States to work, travel and meet new friends.
Please let me add that we are deeply committed to supporting the government of Bulgaria and its leadership in confronting the difficult challenges of the moment and in setting Bulgaria on a course toward a safe and prosperous future. President Plevneliev, Prime Minister Borissov and the entire Council of Ministers have before them a daunting list of objectives. I will do everything I can in my time here to help them succeed.
Our gathering here takes on increased meaning in the wake of the horrific, horrible terrorist attacks in Brussels. Our thoughts are with the people of Brussels and the people of Belgium, as well as the families of the victims of so many other nations. When madmen can kill at will in public, our first thought is, of course, to withdraw, to hug our own loved ones close, to retreat behind the walls of our homes and fight for civilization only in our immediate environment. In every generation, it now feels, our common humanity has been tested by those who seek to impose their will through fear, violence, and eradication of free choice – by those who resort to violence because they can’t succeed in open and tolerant democratic societies.
So if our own hard fought transatlantic unity is to mean anything – if we are to live up to the words of the North Atlantic Treaty, the Treaty of Rome, and the United Nations Charter, let the terror in Brussels call us once again to unite in defense of our security, our freedom and our democratic values. As a number of world leaders have said, we can neither hide from today’s threats nor face them alone.
Bulgaria does not have to hide. In fact, none of us can hide. We have to confront the challenges and defeat the threats before us. Bulgaria, as you all are well aware better than I, is affected by multiple crises confronting Europe overall.
Russian annexation of Crimea, the continuing non-fulfillment of the obligations of the Minsk Accord and continuing military aggression and fomenting of instability in Ukraine is one.
Another is the awful Syrian conflict and the closely related migration crisis that has affected every country in the region and indeed all of Europe.
And finally, the threat of foreign fighters and the continuing evidence of spillover from the conflict that challenges the security of every country in the world.
Many countries in Europe are confronting the consequences of at least one of these challenges, maybe two, but Bulgaria faces all three. It is precisely in times like these that our unity is most vital, and our democratic values are our best guide. America’s approach to protecting our values and to advancing a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace will remain constant, as they have for 70 years, as we work to build communities of common action to add to our traditional alliances whenever we can. In other words, let me emphasize that in these uncertain times, Bulgaria has the best of friends. The United States views Bulgaria as a key partner and ally in facing common challenges, whether they come from the east or the south, from migration or terrorism or any of the other host of issues that confront the nations in the modern world.
From the first American missionaries who came from Robert College to establish the American College in Samokov in the days before Bulgarian independence, to the Peace Corps volunteers who came in the 1990s and early 2000s to help Bulgarians get back on their feet after 45 years of Communism, this has been about Americans and Bulgarians working together as friends, partners and now Allies. We must continue that work.
One of the things that struck me after my arrival here was how often I find myself in conversations about Secretary Kerry’s visit in January 2015. As you are aware, he and Prime Minister Borissov jointly reaffirmed the strategic partnership that exists between our countries, and they also announced the formation of several bilateral working groups.
Why is that important? I think it is because these groups have created a platform to address the challenges I have already named, and more. Let me look at each one briefly in turn.
On defense and security we’ve done a lot in a very short time. As a NATO ally, the United States is supporting the countries on the Alliance’s Eastern edge that worry about threats to security in the region. Our persistent military presence in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states sends a powerful message of deterrence. In fact, through our European Reassurance Initiative and Operation Atlantic Resolve, our bilateral military activity over the past years has increased more than 400 percent. Our troops stand shoulder to shoulder with their Bulgarian counterparts ever more frequently.
But much more remains to be done, and we are working across many dimensions to realize the kind of transformation Bulgarians desire. For example, we have broadened our security cooperation in multiple areas to allow for activities and training that lead to joint capacity and interoperability. These activities have included multi-country exercises on the land in the air and at sea. In the sphere of building leadership and command capacity, the U.S. provides 7 million dollars per year in military equipment and educational military exchanges.
Regarding infrastructure, the U.S. and Bulgaria now have four joint facilities. These are sovereign Bulgarian facilities which are being used to co-locate troops and stage joint training and exercises. Our Department of Defense is helping with significant infrastructure improvements to two of the facilities in ways which will benefit the Bulgarian armed forces for years to come.
On the Economy and Energy Diversification working group – I think we can say that it is entwined with defense and security in many ways. That is why, for example, we consider it a security issue, not just as an economic issue, that we conclude negotiations with the European Union and its member-states on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, T-TIP. Not only will T-TIP bring jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic, it will strengthen our open, free-market economies and our leadership position in setting the global standard in environmental protection, in labor protection, in protection of consumers and workers, and in trade agreements.
I’ll note that the American Chamber of Commerce recently celebrated its 20th anniversary here. And I want to salute AmCham and its membership for its contributions to building the U.S.-Bulgarian partnership and to creating jobs and mutually beneficial trade. This deserves our applause and gratitude.
In fact, the economic situation in Bulgaria is quite dynamic, and there is much to point to as indicators of progress.
Bulgaria’s GDP growth last year was significantly higher than the EU average. Foreign direct investment was up 23 percent in 2015 and, at 1.6 billion euros, was the highest since 2009. And unemployment has continued to go down.
Major American companies have decided to make significant investments here. AES, for example, built the largest, most environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art power plant in Bulgaria, a plant that employs hundreds of local residents. And tomorrow, I will visit a new U.S. investment in Bulgaria – a plant that is a world leader in manufacturing sensors for automobiles.
In other words, American companies see opportunity in investing in Bulgaria, and they are here to stay.
And it’s not just change in the macro economy. There are significant positive developments in the energy sector, as well. When Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Borissov jointly announced the Strategic Dialogue, Secretary Kerry promised Bulgaria assistance in the energy sector, particularly to bolster energy diversification and therefore energy security. We’ve been true to our word. Through multiple visits by our Special Envoy for Energy Affairs, both here and in the region, we have helped Bulgaria work with Greece to move toward the realization of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, IGB.
In particular, I would like to congratulate the government on signing a Final Investment Decision on the IGB in December. This is a significant step forward in realizing this vision. And what, exactly, would the project mean for Bulgaria? Because as some say, it’s not the biggest energy project in the region, butI think that it’s not the size counts, but the impact. And this is where I think there is a lot of evidence already that it would be of strategic importance for Bulgaria.
As many of you know, energy markets are changing, and that includes here in Southeast Europe. Much of this has been spurred on by supplies of gas being brought onto the market from the United States through the so-called unconventional gas revolution. While the United States had anticipated being a net importer of gas, we are now starting to export domestically produced gas, and, in fact, the first cargo was shipped just a few weeks ago. To take advantage of these changes, some countries have built, or are considering building, liquified natural gas terminals, which create a diversification alternative to pipelines that simply did not exist just a few years ago. Lithuania is one of the European Union members that has done so and has already seen a significant benefit to consumers in terms of price.
By building the IGB, Bulgaria would also increase its access to alternative supplies of gas – from Azerbaijan, for a start – and reap similar benefits, we believe. Moreover, it could be the first step in building and connecting infrastructure throughout the region that could change energy markets for years to come to the benefit of Bulgarians consumers and consumers throughout the region.
That’s why we’re working together through our Energy Working Group with Bulgarians to try to make progress on all these issues.
Let me say something about our Rule of Law working group. One of the things that is interesting about the Strategic Dialogue announcement, if you read it carefully, is that Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Borissov made their most specific and precise commitments under this rubric.
Specifically, they mentioned Bulgaria’s work through the Open Government Partnership, or OGP. OGP is not especially well-known, but its aim is easy to understand. It’s focused on helping governments to create transparency and accountability.
We can again ask ourselves how this fits in with helping Bulgaria face the challenges it faces today in its security or the building of its economy. From my perspective, continued democratic and economic development – the transformation that began with the changes in 1989, but which is by no means yet completed – are the long-term arc of Bulgaria’s storyline in the twenty-first century.
These kinds of rule of law improvements are fundamental to continued democratic and economic growth. And that, in turn, is fundamental to increased political stability, increased business, increased trade and a higher quality of life for all.
One of the areas we’re most proud of is our Education and People-to-People Working group. This working group coordinates a wide range of programs and initiatives to further develop Bulgaria’s professionals and to provide youth with the skills that they will need to build Bulgaria’s future. Every country’s future depends on its ability to collaborate with external international partners. The issues that we face today are regional and global, and no single country can solve them alone. Countries that have developed this expertise have a distinct advantage, as they are more able to respond not only to threats and problems, but also to opportunities. In that regard we are very, very proud that we have committed to working closely with the Bulgarian people through our exchange programs, and this commitment amounts to more than just simply words.
Every year, the United States facilitates and funds thousands of exchanges between the United States and Bulgaria – among researchers, artists, students, politicians, musicians, educators, journalists, and community organizers, at a cost of millions of dollars annually. Our Embassy provides professional exchange opportunities to professionals, activists, journalists, educators, members of the government and others to observe America’s experience in dozens of different areas, including teaching, governance, civic engagement, agriculture, entrepreneurship, and innovation, to name just a few.
Many of you have heard of Bulgaria’s Fulbright Commission, which brings American scholars and professionals to Bulgaria, and Bulgarian scholars and professionals to the United States, to allow them to share perspectives and experience. Through assistance from the U.S. government and the America for Bulgaria Foundation, over 1,100 Bulgarians and Americans have participated in our Fulbright program, advancing graduate and post-graduate level collaboration in research and science, technology, language, math, business, journalism, and cultural arts. The Fulbright Program also funds an annual cadre of thirty native speaking English language teachers in high schools throughout Bulgaria.
The America for Bulgaria Foundation, although not part of the United States government, is our partner and is doing a great deal to develop Bulgaria’s human capital and strengthen people-to-people ties between our countries. Their programs train educational professionals, including teachers and principals, to help them develop their full potential as leaders at school and in the classroom. By creating opportunities for closer interaction between universities and high schools, ABF stimulates Bulgaria’s intellectual potential by investing in the next generation of Bulgaria’s leaders. ABF is also improving education in Bulgaria by modernizing classroom settings and introducing new classroom technologies, such as language and science labs. Other programs target educational inequalities among schools and students by working with not only the top programs, but also with some of Bulgaria’s struggling institutions.
We will soon issue the 100,000th visa for the popular Summer Work and Travel program. Many of you know young university students who spent a summer in the United States on this program, gaining work experience, practicing their English, and learning more about American society. Students are often motivated to participate by the financial incentive, but they return to Bulgaria richer than they anticipated, with new skills, new friends, and a global perspective. To ensure that participants benefit for a lifetime, we launched in 2015 a Summer Work and Travel Alumni Association, which provides networking opportunities and helps support the alumni in their endeavors and in their communities here in Bulgaria.
Our Education and Culture working group is also responsible for cooperation in the cultural sphere, including supporting a range of performances, exhibitions and festivals throughout the country. We are dedicated to continuing our longstanding contributions to Bulgaria’s unique and diverse cultural heritage. Under the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation that I oversee, the Embassy is implementing an almost $700,000 project to preserve the 14th century Saint John Aliturgetos church in Nesebar. Other cultural preservation projects include the conservation of two 4th century Christian tombs in central Sofia, the preservation of the 4th century BC Thracian Tomb of Kran II in the Valley of the Thracian Kings, the restoration of the 17th century Kurshum Mosque in Silistra, the preservation of 3rd century mosaic floors in the ancient provincial capital of Philippopolis – modern-day Plovdiv, and the preservation of the early 19th century library and mosque of Osman Pazvantoglu in Vidin.
It’s easy to see how these activities strengthen our bilateral relationship, but how do they help us in addressing the problems we face? Through these programs and initiatives, people learn to solve problems across cultures. Without those skills, we cannot hope to address the regional issues such as the migrant crisis or global issues such as terrorism or global climate change.
I’d like to mention the newest of our working groups and the last one, which is counterterrorism. We created this last year because of the obvious complexity and challenges of the situation we are all facing in the world today. It’s a legacy to the excellent cooperation that the United States and Bulgaria had after the tragic Sarafovo bombing in 2012, and the capacity and the lessons that we have built have created stronger capabilities for both of our countries to address this terrible challenge that everyone is facing. And we are continuing to work together to help train investigators and prosecutors, to help Bulgaria work on strengthening its legal code for dealing with terrorism and foreign fighters. And the goal, of course, is to keep our citizens on both sides of the Atlantic safe and secure.
We talked earlier, I talked earlier about the international challenges that Bulgaria is facing, but I want to emphasize – these are shared challenges, they are joint challenges, and we have to work together to face them. And thus we have created this platform of the working groups to further advance the key goals that we have together with Bulgaria in supporting Bulgaria, which is to further advance Bulgaria’s complete integration into the European Union in all the areas that it is working on, to complete the modernization of Bulgaria’s NATO-interoperable and capable military and continue an ambitious schedule of training and engagement, to encourage energy diversification that can make Bulgaria more independent and also more prosperous, to bolster transparency to enable democratic and economic development and lay the foundation for stability, and to create institutions and to train people to deal with transnational terrorist threats.
So that’s what we’ve been doing. The question now, I think, is where we’re going in the U.S.-Bulgarian relationship. And that’s at a time, as I mentioned, when the world is getting more complex, not less. In such a situation, I think it helps to simplify, so let me put it this way: we see the U.S.-Bulgarian partnership as an anchor in a sea of instability.
And whether we’re talking about strengthening NATO, improving global security, defeating terror, or strengthening our prosperity for our citizens, the United States, Canada and Europe need each other more than ever. We, the transatlantic community, are strongest, safest and most prosperous when we stand together against today’s evils and challenges, and when we live our values at home and support them globally.
Bulgaria is our friend, ally and partner in this endeavor. And at the end of the day, this is about how we want our children and grandchildren to live, and what kind of world we want them to inherit. The foundations are in place for a great, bright future, but there are so many challenges along the way that are facing us.
What I can tell you is that in my time here in Bulgaria, I will do everything in my power to be a good friend, to leverage all the resources I can to help Bulgaria as it meets these multiple challenges, and to speak to the vision that we share, a vision of freedom, prosperity and security.
Thank you to so many people in this audience who are also working toward these goals. I hope to be a friend and a useful partner to you as we pursue solutions and progress together. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador and thank you very much for keeping alive the tradition which is more than 20 years old. Every new U.S. ambassador coming to this country to start his big speech here at the platform forum of the Atlantic club. Thank you so much.
Today’s meeting is transmitted live on the Periscope , the mobile application Periscope. I love it so much. Google+ streaming and all that we say here now is live streamed worldwide. As I stand here I noticed that among us are two of the founders from the Grand National Assembly – Dr. Petar Beron and Stefan Stoyanov, who so to speak are the pioneers of democracy in Bulgaria.
And, I saw in the hall the future Bulgarian Ambassador to the United States – Tihomir Stoychev. I am very happy. I want to wish him from my heart – good, luck Mr. Ambassador. You can work not only on the visas but also on many other great things. Because visas are a trifle thing for what you can do.
There are two one-million dollar questions now. One question is who will be the future president of the United States. And, Mr. Ambassador, I will not ask you this question. I will spare you. But, there is a second question, which is just as interesting, and it is who will be the future UN Secretary General. And, we are very interested to hear if the U.S. government has an opinion on that matter right now.
Also, we very much hope that during your mandate a new dream of the Atlantic Club will be fulfilled. It is not entirely new, because we have been dreaming of that for 20 years now. It is to send a third Bulgarian astronaut with NASA. Is Lieutenant Nikolay Kalaidjiev here? Is he here? This guy called us and said, “I want to fulfill the dream of the Atlantic Club. I want to be the next Bulgarian astronaut. But, I want to fly with NASA,” but Bulgaria must first become a member of European Space Agency, which we hope the Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva will help with. It is based in Paris. So, go through Paris, to NASA, and in space. This is our dream…. (Audience claps)
One other issue also interests us. How do you see the opportunity to build a NATO navy base in the Black Sea? Burgas, Varna? With the support of course of our Turkish neighbors and allies. With the support of Romania, Bulgaria, the United States, with full respect for the Treaty of Montreux, but still a solid base to stabilize the situation in the region.
And one more question . Because people from the Atlantic Club have progressive thinking and because you are the right person to ask . How do you see the possibility of Cuba to be invited as a member of NATO? (Laughter in the audience) It is not so funny. Not so funny. Think, think a little and you will see that we need a third pillar in North America. Moreover, the contract involves a defense around the Tropic of Cancer. Cuba falls geographically very comfortably in this area.
Now, we have a roving microphone in the hall. Hands up please whoever wants to ask a question.
Prof. Stoyan Denchev (Dean of UNIBIT): Dear Mr. Passy, congratulations on the anniversary to you and to Mr. Lyubo Ivanov as founders of the Atlantic Club. In his welcome video H.E. said that Bulgaria is valuable ally and friend of the U.S. – that is really true. It confirmed also something I knew in advance- that he possesses style and he is capable of pragmatic wording. Unlike you, I will not congratulate the USG for the fact that they send in Bulgaria top diplomats, with small exceptions. But at the end I would like to ask a question. I am concerned by one of the official candidates for U.S. Presidential elections- Donald Trump. He said that NATO is “obsolete.” As U.S. Government and President Obama’s representative, do you share this vision? And I would like to send you a public invitation to visit my university and discuss the young people in the United States and Bulgaria. Thank you.
Solomon Passy: Thank you, Prof. Denchev. Next question please. Please focus on the questions only, no statements allowed, because of the Ambassador’s schedule. He has to validate a stamp mark at the end of his presentation and the Transport Deputy Minister will join us. Over to you.
Your Excellency, I would like to ask you a question, you can see it written in front of you, too. I will ask it in Bulgarian, particularly its second part. I am using your arrival in Bulgaria, Your Excellence to ask you: Do you think that it is now appropriate to start a Marshal Plan for Bulgaria and the other Eastern European countries in “reconstruction” mode, despite the fact that we are EU and NATO member? Regarding the “Panama papers” case and other scandal, I’ve submitted… these are obvious funds owned by former communists which could be used by the U.S. Government.
Solomon Passy: Your question is clear. Thank you. Next question, please. It is your turn, young man at the end of the row.
Stoyan Trichkov, radio K2: Good afternoon. Mr. Ambassador, Your Excellency, I would like to ask you two questions. The first one is where do you think Bulgaria is located on the big chess board as a small country – partner of the United States as NATO and EU member and in same time historically and culturally linked to Russia? And my second question is: two years ago PM Boyko Borissov met with American Chamber of Commerce and he stated that the U.S. business is always welcome to Bulgaria but only if they obey the law. And one question from Iliyana Benovska regarding the U.S.- Bulgaria partnership. PM Boyko Borissov said that it takes two to tango. In your opinion, do you think that Bulgaria and United States could be described as a couple, is it equal and in what aspect is it a couple that tangoes?
Solomon Passy: Is the United States small as a country?
Stoyan Trichkov : Figuratively speaking.
Solomon Passy: Next question, please.
Emiliya Milcheva, Ureport.bg online media: Your Excellency, my question is the following. You probably know about the problems with the so-called American power plants in Bulgaria. Would you commit to cooperate in solving the issue? It has been going on for a long time and it is linked to the large amounts due – the National Electricity Company dues – 1, 2 billion leva to the so-called American plants. And my second question is based on recent public poll research published by Gallup. According to the research, 14 percent of Bulgarians consider the United States an “enemy.” How would you assess this, may be it is not politically correct to ask you, but is this a result of hybrid war or what?
Solomon Passy: For your information- Olivier Marquette, CEO of AES Bulgaria is here so you can directly ask him questions on the matter. Next question- this young man is among the most active persons on Twitter. Congrats!
Svetoslav Traykov: Your Excellency, I would like to ask about your evaluation of Irina Bokova’s work as UNESCO chairman?
Solomon Passy: This is a bilateral question, actually a multilateral question. I can’t see any hands, so Ambassador, over to you.
Ambassador Rubin: Thank you very much. Thank you for this really interesting and daunting set of questions, but I’ll do my best to address them as well as I can. And I’ll start with Solomon’s questions, if I might. Just to say that I absolutely love the idea of having a Bulgarian in space again, and I will do everything I can to try to help promote that. It will be, I think, first and foremost a question for the European Space Agency, though, and that’s beyond our competence, but I hope we can see this vision achieved. It would be really wonderful.
On Solomon’s question on military bases, I think we should both be very proud – Bulgarians and Americans – of the tremendous progress that we’ve made in achieving a very active presence here of NATO forces, including American forces, and a very active presence of Bulgarian forces operating with NATO overseas. And I think the most important point is we are rapidly increasing our military-to-military engagement. Bulgaria’s interoperability and integration with NATO forces is rapidly increasing, and the pace with which we train and exercise is something that I think that is really a success story, and I have been deeply, deeply impressed with the Bulgarian officers that I have met in the past several months here – their intelligence, capability, training, dedication to their country. So I think this is a very positive success story. I think it would be beyond my ability to go beyond that and talk about specific facilities. But I can say I think we have a vision that President Obama has laid out, including increased funding for NATO and for our efforts with the states along the periphery of NATO’s borders, and we’re going to continue that, and I’m optimistic that this will continue to be an area of success.
On the question of the visa waiver program, what I can say is that we share the goal, and we share the vision. And I am very, very confident that it will be achieved. But there is much work to be done. Our Congress has established very specific criteria, and I will tell you candidly that there is much work to be done before those criteria are met. So I would say this is something that we have to keep working on together. We fully understand the desire, we fully endorse it and want to see it achieved. And there are several other countries in the region also working toward this. So we will work with you to try to move to that day, which I know we all want to see.
The idea of Cuba in NATO, that took me a little by surprise, but these are changing times. What I can say is the Alliance has a vision that it is open to all countries that wish to apply to join, but there are very clear criteria. And as President Obama said very clearly multiple times in his very historic visit to Cuba, that Cuba still has a very long way to go before we could even think of calling it a democracy. And that is a fundamental element of NATO. In order to even apply for membership, a country has to have a fully democratic system of government. Cuba does not have that yet, but we share the vision, as President Obama said when he was there, of seeing that accomplished someday soon. So let’s revisit that question.
On the question of our elections, I was just back in Washington a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to watch a lot of television. So I understand the question, and let me just say, this is our democracy in action. The American people ultimately have the final say, and I believe they will do the right thing, whatever that is, whatever they decide that that is. But I think it is important to also point to the remarks that President Obama made about this, saying very, very clearly that our commitment to NATO, as a government, as a country, as a people, is unshakeable, is unchanged, and in this dangerous world it’s more important than ever. So that’s where we stand, that’s our opinion.
On the question of a new Marshall Plan, I think these are different times than the end of World War II. I don’t think the same solutions are appropriate. But I will say, I do feel that together we’ve accomplished so much in the past twenty-five years, and we’re still doing so much together, and it’s hard to get that historical perspective. And, of course, citizens are impatient. It’s never enough. I know the politicians in this audience understand that better than anyone, that it’s never enough and that people always want more. But I think we’re doing a lot, and as I said, we’re working to see if we can do more. We understand the criticality of prosperity, of more good jobs at good wages, to increase the standard of living. That’s crucial in any democracy for stability and to have social cohesion. So that’s something I think that we want to work to.
And just to mention one comment that was made in that question about blocs. About an Eastern bloc. We don’t accept blocs. There are no blocs anymore. There is one Europe. There’s one European Union. There is one NATO, one transatlantic community. And it is essential not to new draw lines. New lines in Europe is the opposite of what we’ve been trying to do all this time. So I urge everyone to join with us and with your government, which I know feels very strongly about that, in saying, we’re not drawing new lines. This is Europe, this is the transatlantic community, we are together, and we’re not going to talk about that or chessboards or anything like that. Just like there are no blocs, there is no chessboard. This is not a game. This is very serious, this is life. And this is people’s lives, and we have to take it seriously as such. And I think the goal that we have, and we’ve been very clear about this, and we share this with the Bulgarian government as well – good relations with everyone, prosperous trade and investment in all directions, peace, stability, not dividing the world, not dividing Europe, not dividing the region. So this doesn’t have to be about anybody against anybody. This should be a mutually beneficial vision, an open vision, a shared vision, and that’s how we see it.
I think on the question of the power station, as I mentioned in my remarks, we believe that the AES complex is truly a world-leading investment with the highest environmental technology of any such station in the world. We do know that there has been difficulty over the question of the arrears. We are working very, very closely with our Bulgarian counterparts in the Bulgarian government and with the companies. All I will say is, this is a negotiation, but we are very hopeful for a positive resolution soon.
On the question of the fourteen-percent poll – you’ve all seen that. I think that’s backwards. I would call that the eighty-six percent poll. So eighty-six percent of Bulgarians do not see us as an enemy. (Applause) To me, that’s a great outcome. I’m very happy with that. That’s a great number. And I hope it will continue to go down. I believe it will. I’m quite sure it will. And again, let’s not … Asking people who’s your enemy is not a very useful project either. I think we should work to avoid that concept that we have enemies and friends. This should be one community with people trying to unite rather than divide.
Finally on the question of Madame Bokova, what I will say on this is that there are now a long list of very strong candidates of who have submitted themselves for consideration to the General Assembly. We look forward to looking at this very impressive list and spending time with the candidates, as all other members of the General Assembly will. And in due time, we will make some decisions, as every country will, in terms of our priorities and preferences. It’s way too early to discuss that now. And this is a matter not for me, bilaterally, but this is a matter for the United Nations, the General Assembly. So we’ll be very glad to hear from all the candidates, and as I said, I want to emphasize that all of them, every single one of them, is very impressive, very accomplished. This is going to be a serious, serious decision for the international community to make.
(Passy) Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. I was particularly encouraged by what you say about the Black Sea naval bases, that your presence will be rapidly increasing and that President Obama has a vision.
(AMB) Let me just be sure that I’m clear, that I am not offering a naval base here. There is no …
(Passy) We started the discussion about the bilateral American – Bulgarian facilities that we have today. In 1999, here at the Atlantic Club, and I was happy that seven years later, they were a fact. I don’t know when the naval bases will be a fact, but I am happy to see that we are going in that direction.
And vis-à-vis Cuba, I want to remind that Bulgaria has… used to have very strong relations with Cuba, and we can help Cuba get democratized in order to join NATO in the way in which we did this. You can pass the message, please.
(Passy) Meanwhile we have Deputy Minister Valeri Borissov and Mr. Daneshki, the CEO of the post office. Once again allow me to thank AmCham and our sponsors, law office (different names), the last company sells very good tractors. And Embassy Desk. Some of these companies are companies of our trainees, so send your students here. Dear Deputy Minister, dear CEO of the post office, since we are going to do a validation, we should stamp.