On January 8, 2020, the Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Bulgaria launched a high-level bilateral Strategic Dialogue, a forum for consultation and cooperation on global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual interest to both our countries. This Dialogue was agreed to during the November 25, 2019 meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
The United States and Bulgaria are allies, friends, and strategic partners, bound together by a shared interest in freedom, democracy, and economic opportunity. Today we held wide-ranging discussions on issues of importance to both our countries. The two sides discussed a number of global issues, including Iran, Turkey and Syria, Russia, China, and the Western Balkans. The two sides also focused in-depth on security, energy, the rule of law, as well as bilateral agenda topics such as Bulgaria’s progress toward Visa Waiver Program (VWP) inclusion, its candidacy for OECD membership, and prospects for concluding a Social Security Totalization agreement, among other issues.
The United States and Bulgaria both want the Western Balkans to be a thriving, prosperous region, fully integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and responsive to and supportive of the needs of its people. This demands political courage and vision – throughout Europe. The United States and Bulgaria stand ready to assist, because it is in our interests as well. A stronger Western Balkans makes a stronger Europe and a stronger transatlantic partnership.
Introduction to Bilateral Issues
We discussed Bulgaria’s candidacy for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Visa Waiver Program. We agreed that Bulgaria will continue aligning with international standards for economic policy, including those of the OECD. We remain committed to working bilaterally and through the tripartite process with the European Union to help Bulgaria meet VWP requirements. We commend Bulgaria’s strong work, including on air passenger screening and information sharing. For the first time, the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs will visit Bulgaria in March 2020 to continue these discussions.
We committed to work together to determine when it would be feasible to enter into a Social Security Totalization Agreement.
Security and Defense Cooperation
Bulgaria and the United States recognize the strategic position that Bulgaria holds in the region and in maintaining security in the Black Sea, and that bilateral and NATO cooperation is vital to ensuring that security. Bulgaria has already undertaken initial steps to increase defense spending and modernize its Armed Forces, and the United States stands ready to support these on-going efforts to increase interoperability and meet NATO capability targets.
To that end, the United States and Bulgaria agreed to develop a defense roadmap that will articulate our mutual priorities and establish lines of activity to focus our security cooperation activities for the next ten years. This ten-year roadmap, the outline of which was agreed during the Strategic Dialogue, will support Bulgaria’s modernization efforts, build capabilities to deter and defend against threats in all domains, and bolster interoperability. Among our key priorities are maritime cooperation in the Black Sea, building interoperability and resilience through joint training and exercises, cybersecurity, and strengthening defense institutions.
With a renewed focus on security in the Black Sea, we especially welcome cooperation on maritime domain awareness, and notably Bulgaria’s efforts to establish a maritime coordination center in Varna. Both the United States and Bulgaria recognize the importance of working with other NATO Allies and partners in the Black Sea region to maintain our collective security, and plan to increase our regional engagements as part of this roadmap.
The United States and Bulgaria will continue the development of this roadmap through a bilateral drafting committee and expect to sign the completed roadmap later this year. We will aim to exchange first drafts of the 10-year roadmap in April 2020.
Economic, Trade, and Energy Cooperation
We will continue to deepen our energy cooperation with the goal of enhancing the energy security of Bulgaria and the region. Building on the dialogue initiated by the December 2019 visit by a U.S. nuclear technical team to Bulgaria, we will work toward building a consensus on the best way forward for Bulgaria. We will jointly monitor the licensing progress of American nuclear fuel to ensure that Bulgaria can achieve diversification of nuclear fuel supplies expeditiously.
On natural gas, Bulgaria will continue to support timely construction of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB). The United States welcomed Bulgaria’s recent action to acquire a 20 percent ownership stake in and consider booking capacity for the Alexandroupolis Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU). We recognize that the IGB and the FSRU together will greatly increase Bulgaria’s energy diversification, go a long way toward turning Bulgaria into a regional gas hub, and enable substantial and mutually beneficial growth in bilateral trade. We will also further our discussion of liberalization of Bulgaria’s domestic gas market that would allow Bulgaria to reap full gains from becoming a regional gas trading center. Building on the progress made during the visit of the December nuclear team, the United States will send another technical team to Bulgaria in the near future to assess and assist Bulgaria in developing its natural gas infrastructure, as well as looking at hydropower and other renewable energy options, with the goal of turning the country into a regional energy hub to promote energy diversification throughout the Balkans. The parties agreed to ensure fairness and competition regarding the nuclear energy industry, which will guarantee security of supplies and competitive prices. Bulgaria, in compliance with EU rules, will ensure diversification of fresh nuclear fuel supplies expeditiously.
We resolve to increase cooperation in the exchange of new technology that can help our economies transition toward cleaner and more efficient energy generation. By sharing experience and expertise, as well as attracting U.S. capital to Bulgaria, we can address the challenges of the future.
We reiterate our commitment to the principle of fair treatment of investors, to resolving any investment disputes by good-faith negotiations, and to expanding bilateral trade.
Taking into account that secure fifth generation wireless communications networks (5G) will be vital to both future prosperity and national security, the Republic of Bulgaria and the United States declared their desire to strengthen cooperation on 5G. Both sides emphasized the need to develop, deploy, and commercialize 5G networks based on the foundation of free and fair competition, transparency, and the rule of law. Protecting these next generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation and ensuring the privacy and individual liberties of the citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria and the United States is vital to ensuring that our citizens are able to take advantage of the tremendous economic opportunities 5G will enable. The Republic of Bulgaria and the United States emphasized the importance of encouraging the participation of reliable and trustworthy network hardware and software suppliers and service suppliers in 5G markets, taking into account risk profile assessments, and promoting frameworks that encourage maximum efforts to protect 5G networks from unauthorized access or interference. The Republic of Bulgaria and the United States further recognize that 5G suppliers should provide products and services that enable innovation and promote efficiency. These products and services should also enable fair competition and encourage downstream development by the maximum number of market participants where technically possible.
Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law
The United States and Bulgaria continue to acknowledge that corruption undermines democratic institutions, hampers economic development and prosperity, as well as opens the door for malign influence. Working together, our two governments will continue an ongoing dialogue, to include legislative and procedural proposals to strengthen Bulgaria’s public institutions so that they are more independent, transparent, and effective. Among our key priorities are ensuring that independent bodies remain non-partisan and autonomous, expanding balanced access to the Constitutional Court, and sharing good practices for greater judicial independence and prosecutorial accountability. In doing so, we strive to strengthen democratic institutions, thereby increasing the people’s faith in the electoral process and the justice system.