Interview with Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at U.S. Department of State
Bulgaria has already made some important steps towards diversifying its energy supplies and the U.S. will be happy to help with implementation of the vision of Prime Minister Borisov for the country to be a hub in the region. This is what Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford told Mediapool.bg after his meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov at the Council of Ministers on Saturday. The two discussed the upcoming meeting of the Bulgarian Prime Minister with U.S. President Donald Trump on November 25th in Washington. According to Ford, this visit will endorse the strategic partnership between the two nations and will also open up new opportunities for energy cooperation. In his words, Bulgaria needs diversification in nuclear supplies, which are currently under the full control of the Russian nuclear industry.
Mr. Ford, what did you talk about with Prime Minister Borissov?
I was very pleased with the productive conversation with the Prime Minister. In part, it was also a preparation for a very exciting meeting to be held in Washington next week, which both sides are looking forward to. This is a way to emphasize our very good relations and to continue to develop them, and to highlight our strategic partnership that we are building together. In particular, we talked about how to enhance our relationship in the field of energy independence and sustainability.
Did you suggest anything specific?
We agreed upon promptly sending a technical team of U.S. experts to Bulgaria to work with their Bulgarian counterparts, to visit different sites and to explore the possibilities for further cooperation in different areas of energy, including nuclear.
Did you discuss energy diversification in Bulgaria and the possibilities of importing American liquefied gas?
We discussed energy diversification and I was very interested to hear about all the excellent work that has been done on the construction of the interconnector with Greece, which we hope in the near future will allow diversification of gas supplies in this part of the world. We talked about the importance of Bulgaria’s role as a hub and model that contributes to diversification in a more effective way. It was a very productive meeting and it was a pleasure for me to participate in it.
The Bulgarian government is expected to make a decision next week on the procedure for finding a strategic investor in Belene NPP. General Electric is also involved. Have you discussed their intention?
As I said, we agreed with the Prime Minister that a very important and valuable next step for us is to send a team of all the right experts – probably from the Department of Energy and from the State Department, to come to Bulgaria, visit a number of places and explore with their Bulgarian counterparts what are the opportunities for further advancement and deepening of our strategic partnership in this area.
Especially on the Belene project?
Multiple places. More than one. The goal is for our team to arrive and find the right options to ensure that the Prime Minister’s vision of Bulgaria as an important hub in the region can come true. And we believe that diversification of supplies of nuclear energy could be an important part of that and it would be a good chance to see what we could do together.
When do you expect this team of experts to arrive in Bulgaria?
It’s hard to say. We only agreed on that ten minutes ago. But we are happy with the prospect and we will work to send a very capable team to Bulgaria as soon as possible.
U.S. company Westinghouse has asked the Bulgarian Nuclear Agency regulator to license Westinghouse as a supplier of fresh nuclear fuel in Bulgaria. Is this the case and do you know at what stage the procedure is?
I am aware of this and I think that Westinghouse is very well prepared to help Bulgaria in the much-needed diversification of nuclear fuel and to break the full control of the Russian nuclear industry on the nuclear fuel supplies. Westinghouse has experience with identical (to Kozloduy NPP) reactors elsewhere and is in a perfect position to deliver fuel. I do not know the details of the current stage of negotiations, but I think this is an excellent opportunity for the Bulgarian-American relationship.
How do you view the prospects for energy cooperation between the two countries?
I think they have a very bright future. Important steps have already been taken. That is exactly the purpose of our common efforts – to explore and create new opportunities. This is a wonderful point in our relationship, and I think it will be appropriately reflected at the upcoming meeting when our President receives Prime Minister Borissov in the White House. They both will have the opportunity to emphasize the importance of our strategic partnership and ways to make it even better.
What do you think about the project for crossing the Turkish Stream gas pipeline through Bulgaria? Does it threaten to increase Bulgaria’s energy dependency on Russia?
Prime Minister Borissov was very clear today about his vision for increasing the diversification of energy supplies. But this is not something that can happen overnight. He made it very clear, outlining the ways Bulgaria intends to get to where it is aiming – diversification of energy supplies. Some important steps have already been taken in this direction and we will be glad to help to achieve the desired effect in the best way possible, both in the interest of the economy and security of Bulgaria, as well as in the relations which we are building together.
What can Bulgaria expect from the visit of Boyko Borissov on November 25 in Washington?
As I said, this is a good opportunity to highlight everything we already do together and point the way towards new opportunities. We expect a very productive meeting on November 25th.