Deputy Secretary Blinken: Well, good morning to all of you, and thank you all very much for coming out on a weekend. And I apologize again for intruding on what is a holiday weekend for Bulgaria, and I’m really grateful to all of our counterparts here for their very, very warm hospitality.
I especially want to thank the Foreign Minister for very productive discussions this morning that have concluded what has been an excellent trip to Sofia.
As I mentioned after my meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, this visit underscores our strong commitment to deepening and expanding our ties, and our appreciation especially for Bulgaria’s leadership in fostering greater freedom, greater prosperity, and greater opportunity in the region and, indeed, around the world.
And I particularly want to underscore again Bulgaria’s leadership in combatting smuggling of contraband. It is setting an important example for other countries and producing real results.
The Foreign Minister and I, along with our teams, as you heard him describe, spent this morning reviewing our progress within the working groups that we initially established between the Foreign Minister and Secretary Kerry when he was here in Sofia last year: rule of law, energy security and diversification, security and defense, and education and people-to-people ties.
In addition, we took stock of progress made in the fifth group that was more recently established, as the Minister said, on counterterrorism. And it’s already building an excellent cooperation between our countries through training, through exchanges of information, and through joint operations.
In all of these areas, we have already begun to see concrete results and benefits from this increased cooperation between our countries.
A joint investment by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Kozloduy Power Plant has brought a state-of-the art cyclotron to Bulgaria, which will enable advanced scientific research and production of medical isotopes to both improve the quality and access to critical cancer treatments.
As we approach now the issuance of the one hundred thousandth visa in our summer work and travel program for young Bulgarian students, we know that our continued investment in educational exchange and people-to-people ties, as the Minister said, will only continue to pay increasing dividends for both of our countries into the future. This is the foundation, long-term, along with the increasing business ties between us, that will bind our countries together for decades and decades to come.
Progress as well on the Open Government Partnership has boosted transparency efforts on procurement and business ownership, which, if continued, would greatly improve the climate for both foreign and domestic investment in Bulgaria.
The decision this past December to move forward with the gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria has the potential to literally reshape the energy market – not only here in Bulgaria, but throughout the Balkans, providing diversification in sources and routes of energy that will strengthen energy security across the region.
And as I mentioned yesterday, we continue to work together on national security and defense as we prepare for the July NATO summit. We fully support Bulgaria’s military modernization efforts that, if implemented, will strengthen Bulgaria’s security and the overall Atlantic Alliance.
This is just a small cross-section, not only of what we have already achieved in the last year, but what we hope to achieve in the years ahead. And indeed, one small piece of evidence of the growing depth and breadth of our relationship is, for all the time we spent together, I didn’t get through most of my, some of my points because there’s so much on the agenda between us. Which means we’re just going to have to continue the conversations.
But Mr. Minister, thank you again for your warm hospitality, but even more, for the extraordinarily productive work that our two governments are doing together.
BNT: Mr. Deputy Secretary, I would like to ask you, how do you assess the role of the Bulgarian foreign policy in the Southeastern European region especially given the instability in some of the neighboring countries?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much. First, in a time of tremendous change and tremendous challenge in this region and indeed around the world, in so many ways, Bulgaria is a source of stability that is much needed in the world today. Bulgaria is playing a critically important role within the NATO alliance and is setting an example for other allies through its own defense modernization efforts, and this is something that will be very important at the NATO summit in just a few weeks. As we mentioned, Bulgaria’s role in terms of building energy diversification and energy security could not be more important. This, too, is going to be a real source of strength and stability for Europe in the years ahead, and Bulgaria is right at the heart of that. The interconnector project with Greece is a very significant development and step forward. And then as I mentioned, the work that the Prime Minister has done in fighting smuggling of contraband sets a very significant example for other countries as well. And I think one of the great insights that he’s had in the way he’s approached the problem is to break down barriers within government so that all of the different parts of the government are communicating and working together. This is the way to be effective and to get results, and I think he has demonstrated that in this area. And it’s a good lesson, I think, across government in tackling different problems, for example, the problem of counterterrorism. So in this area and in so many others, what we’re seeing, including through the work that we have done together in the working groups, is a relationship between the United States and Bulgaria that is growing deeper and growing broader, covering more areas of common interest. So we … I have to tell you that we in the United States are grateful for this partnership, and I think it is evidence of the growing and stronger role that Bulgaria is playing in the region and actually even beyond the region, all the way to Afghanistan, Iraq and other places where we’re working shoulder to should together.
K2 Radio : Mr. Blinken, I would like to ask you what is happening with T-TIP given that France said that it could block the talks, and why is there an impression that the of T-TIP details are obscured by secrecy and lack of transparency and that through T-TIP, the U.S. aims to take over the EU with GMO? And my next question is for both of you – when will Bulgarians be able to travel to the U.S. visa-free and are you discussing this issue more intensively since the reciprocity principle in visa is even more topical now in the European Commission?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you very much. Let me start by saying that I just returned recently from Asia, and in Asia we concluded a few months the Transpacific Partnership Agreement, which is similar to the work that we are doing with T-TIP. And throughout Asia we are seeing more and more countries who want to be a part of this agreement. We have an original dozen countries, more and more now want to join. And the reason is simple, and it’s the same that will apply, I believe, to T-TIP, although obviously, the trading relationships in Europe and with the United States are advanced even further already. Trade is happening one way or the other. The question is, who is going to set the rules? Who is going to shape the way that trade happens? And if we are doing it together , we are going to do it in a way that sets the highest standards – for protecting workers, for protecting the environment, for protecting intellectual property, for having transparency. That is the strength of the agreement that we have already reached in Asia that covers 40 percent of world GDP. That will be the strength of the T-TIP agreement when we reach it in Europe. It will be a race to the top so that our workers and our people not only benefit from trade, but are protected at the same time. It’s going to remove barriers to trade, and it’s going to remove red tape and bureaucracy, simplify procedures. And what that means is, as well, more investment will come here to Bulgaria. More investment means more jobs. It means more growth for the economy. Everyone can be lifted up together and, again, with the highest standards, not the lowest standards. That is the potential. Now, in any of these agreements there are very difficult, complicated issues to work through. And in addition different countries have national priorities, national concerns. They have to be reflected somehow and protected in the agreement. And in any negotiation, as the agreement is being negotiated, different counties take different positions, as a matter of negotiation, that don’t wind up in the final product. But we have, as we have already demonstrated in Asia, an agreement that is lifting everyone. We have the potential here with T-TIP in Europe to do exactly the same thing. The alternative is that barriers that are here now, will remain in place, blocking trade from flowing. The alternative is that standards for environmental protection, for worker rights, for intellectual property rights, for transparency – in some places will remain lower than they should instead of being raised in a way that benefits everyone. The alternative is that instead of the United States and Europe together setting the rules for trade, others will do it, and probably to lower standards than either of us would like. So that’s what is at stake, but the opportunity is tremendous, and I believe that we’ll get it right. Thank you.
On the visa waiver program:
Deputy Secretary Blinken: And if I could just add that we are determined that Bulgaria benefit from the program, and I committed again today to the Foreign Minister that we will work very closely on this to see if we can move forward.