Ambassador Mustafa – “U.S.-Bulgarian Relations: The Next 30 Years”

Ambassador’s Remarks at the Atlantic Club Sofia


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be with you today to commemorate the deep friendship between the American and Bulgarian people and to celebrate our strategic relationship.  I have been overwhelmed by the warm welcome I have received since my arrival last month and am excited to mark the launch of my three-year tenure here with the distinguished members of the Atlantic Club.  I would like to relay my special thanks to Dr. Solomon Passy for the opportunity to address you all today and a warm welcome to all the special guests who are with us.

Вчера в САЩ беше Деня на благодарността, ден за размисъл върху всичко за което сме благодарни.

Тази година съм особено благодарна, че живея в тази чудесна страна, България, работя с най-добрия екип на посолство в цяла Европа, и всеки ден научавам повече за българите и тяхната древна култура, както и за това, което ви вълнува.

Именно заради българският народ, аз съм оптимист за бъдещето на България и за отношенията между нашите две страни.

We are standing at a watershed moment in history.  This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the 15th anniversary of Bulgaria’s membership in NATO.  The U.S. and Bulgaria, together, have accomplished much in the past 30 years, namely in strengthening our military, commercial, and people-to-people ties.  When Dr. Passy asked me what I wanted to discuss during my talk today I noted that I want to not only take stock of where we are in our relationship but also to forecast where I believe we are heading, for the next 30 years and beyond.  I want to mark this critical juncture because our relationship is at a new level of growth and engagement, starting with the historic meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Borissov earlier this week.

I hope you all read the very substantive and substantial joint statement that resulted from the meeting.  Another important outcome is the establishment of a Strategic Partnership Framework, a roadmap for continuing our fruitful collaboration in three main areas of mutual interest: 1) security and defense cooperation 2) economic, trade, and energy cooperation, and 3) strengthening democracy and the rule of law.  We do not regularly pen such frameworks and the fact that we did with Bulgaria is a sign of the importance we place and potential we see in this relationship.

My goal for the next three years is to move forward on realizing what we believe will be the future of the next thirty years in our relationship, realizing a shared vision and taking our strategic relationship to new heights.  Today, I would like to focus on the priorities identified in our Strategic Partnership Framework by first summarizing where we are now and then where we are going in the future.

First on Security and Defense: United States and Bulgaria have established a robust security relationship since the fall of Communism.  Bulgaria was one of the first countries to join the State Partnership Program in 1993 when it established a partnership between the Bulgarian Armed Forces and the Tennessee National Guard.  We opened our Office of Defense Cooperation in Sofia in 1999.  In 2006 we signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allowed the American military to increase its participation in bilateral and multilateral training here in Bulgaria.  Through the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), the United States has since invested more than $50 million to upgrade Bulgarian military facilities, where U.S. rotational units routinely train with their Bulgarian military counterparts.  One of my first visits outside of Sofia was to our joint base in Novo Selo, a fine example of how well our forces work together.  The scope and pace of our military engagement with Bulgaria are steadily increasing, with 200 joint military engagements in 2019, including 19 U.S.-sponsored exercises.

Since joining NATO in 2004, Bulgaria has demonstrated its commitment to a strong and free Europe and has been a reliable ally in the Balkans, an area of strategic importance to the United States.  Bulgarian soldiers have fought alongside U.S. troops in operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan and have participated in coalition operations in Libya, Kosovo, and Bosnia.  Additionally, in line with the defense spending pledge made by all Allies at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit, Bulgaria is on track to reach its defense spending targets by 2024. And as the recent purchase of F-16 multi-role fighter jets demonstrates, Bulgaria is actively taking steps to modernize its military to become a more capable ally and partner.

For our part, the United States Government has invested over $350 million across various security assistance efforts to assist in training and equipping the Bulgarian Armed Forces over the past 30 years.  Over 5,000 Bulgarian military officers, enlisted members, as well as civilian officials from the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs have benefited from U.S. training programs.  And the United States military has been a good neighbor for communities across Bulgaria. Since 2010, we have partnered with local communities and donated millions of dollars through approximately 60 projects to build and renovate schools and other facilities across the country in support of Bulgaria’s social and economic development strategy.

While we are already doing so much together in the security realm, both sides agree we want to do even more, building on our success.  As part of the Strategic Partnership Framework, we will launch a new dialogue to co-develop a 10-year roadmap to further advance bilateral defense cooperation to counter maritime, cyber, and hybrid threats in the Black Sea region.  We will increase the number of military exercises with our Bulgarian colleagues, incorporating more complex and dynamic scenarios.  The United States will also continue to support Bulgaria’s modernization efforts through the provision of security assistance and facilitating access to advanced U.S. defense technology.  Aside from on-going negotiations regarding the acquisition of new military equipment, we are also exploring the possibility of jointly producing certain defense articles.

Second on Economic, Trade, and Energy: I am proud of our strong economic relationship and how far we have come. In the past 30 years we have watched Bulgaria rebuild from the ruins of a Communist command economy, establish a flourishing IT sector, and benefit greatly from ever-deepening links with Western companies.  American companies have invested well over two-and-a-half billion dollars in the Bulgarian economy, bringing know-how as well as capital.  This has created over 30,000 highly-skilled, high-paying jobs especially in manufacturing, energy, and modern agriculture and places the United States among the top six investors in the country.  Our current bilateral trade volume is over $1.2 billion and growing.  U.S. exports are bringing to Bulgaria high-tech, cutting-edge products, with particularly high growth in electronic devices, automotive parts, power plant equipment, and medical technology.

Yet this is just the beginning.  We can create even more economic value and social benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.  The United States also offers our assistance and access to our companies to help make the Bulgarian people richer and more productive.  In the coming months we will pair Bulgarian companies with American companies at several trade shows, with the first, focusing on the security, health, and information technology fields, coming just next week.  We will also be facilitating and hosting many more trade delegations, and focus more on starts up, incubators, and entrepreneurship.  I hope the Bulgarian diaspora will be a part of this exchange as they have much to offer and must be an integral part of any future development of this country.

We will work with your government and leading economic groups to help Bulgaria prepare to be further integrated into leading economic institutions in order to become a vital, contributing member of the regional and global economy.  However, this progress, along with unlocking the full potential of the U.S.-Bulgarian economic relationship, will require an improvement in the investment climate, in regulatory predictability, in tender procedures, and the intellectual property rights enforcement regime. It will also require greater transparency in business negotiations, and a reliable judicial system.  I am prepared to ask the hard questions to arrive at positive change.

You all probably have seen and read that energy cooperation was a key theme of the White House meeting.  President Trump and Prime Minister Borissov discussed our shared goal of Bulgaria becoming a true gas hub and a key source of regional energy security.  I am dedicated to supporting Bulgaria’s efforts to diversify its energy supply, to include the gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) and Bulgaria’s participation in Greece’s planned Alexandroupolis Floating Storage and Regasification Unit.  Just this month, I travelled with the ambassadors of Greece and Azerbaijan, along with the Energy Minister, Prime Minister Borissov, and all the relevant commercial companies to the Haskovo Region to inspect progress on the IGB and will be closely following its progress in the weeks and months to come.  The IGB and Alexandroupolis together will open the way for large-scale imports of LNG, finally introducing real competition into Bulgaria’s gas market, helping ensure reliable supply and allowing the Bulgarian consumer to benefit from lower prices.

Unlike the Turkstream pipeline that seeks to make Bulgaria purely a transit country, the IGB and Alexandroupolis hold promise of making Bulgaria into a true energy hub by making it a regional trading center for natural gas.  But let’s not stop there.  The hub will benefit greatly from more spokes.  So let’s build links with neighboring countries, such as north to Romania, and northwest to Serbia, across the Balkans to Hungary and Austria.  Finally, if Bulgaria is to become an energy hub, it is critical that it reform its own domestic gas market – by ensuring a fair, non-discriminatory and transparent marketplace, a key prerequisite to diversification.

On the nuclear side, Bulgaria is on the threshold of important decisions.  To this end, we are bringing a team of U.S. technical experts here to evaluate the available options and engage in a constructive dialogue with their Bulgarian counterparts on the best way forward.  Working together, and taking into consideration strategic realities and evolving market conditions, we can map out the best way forward with the benefit of America’s expertise, including in nuclear energy.

Reflecting on our strong bilateral relationship at this moment in history is timely and important as it has broader implications for regional and international security.  Part of implementing our strategic partnership vision is promoting Bulgaria’s role as a vital regional player.  I applaud Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic orientation and the demonstration of exemplary regional leadership on cross-border security and migration controls on the frontlines of EU’s external border.  Early next month, Bulgaria will be co-hosting with us a regional forum on countering violent extremism in the Balkans, further demonstrating its regional leadership.

The U.S. and Bulgaria also share a desire to work together through multilateral fora to promote regional development across Central and Eastern Europe via the expansion of vital energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure. Through platforms such as the Three Seas Initiative and the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation, we will move together toward achieving concrete progress.  The U.S is also ready to lend support on combating cybercrime and securing Bulgaria’s wireless communications networks in order to strengthen Bulgaria’s defenses in the field of technology and innovation.  Lastly, we want to ensure that Bulgaria’s 5G networks are built with the proper security controls.

I hope you have noticed an uptick in activity between our two countries this past month.  Again, this is just the beginning.  We are looking forward to a series of high-level visits to launch our new dialogue.  All this is a testament to our commitment to engaging with Bulgaria at the highest levels of military and civilian leadership.

Finally on Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law: My Embassy will work with our Bulgarian partners to strengthen Bulgaria’s democracy and improve opportunities in Bulgaria’s free market.  Aided by our new Resident Legal Advisor who arrives in Sofia in just a few days, I plan to work with both government and civil society to strengthen the primacy of the law, foster judicial independence, and tackle corruption.  We plan to take a multifaceted approach to this task, including the use of tools that have teeth.  One such instrument is Section 7031(c) of the Anti-Kleptocracy and Human Rights provision of the State Department annual appropriations bill.  This legislation reinforces U.S. efforts to fight corruption globally, which directly impacts the foreign policy, economic, and national security interests of the United States and those of partner nations.  It allows us to implement U.S. visa bans on foreign officials and immediate family members who have engaged in significant corruption.  Such tough measures will benefit Bulgaria in the long term as a firm adherence to the rule of law is inextricably tied to Bulgaria’s political and economic prowess.

In addition to promoting transparency, a strong democracy must also doggedly defend media freedom and respect minority voices.  Only when all voices are heard and when citizens have faith in their government and its institutions, can Bulgaria reach its full potential.  The U.S. will continue to support Bulgarian civil society, promote a free and transparent media space, and highlight the importance of protecting human rights.  In striving for progress in the rule of law sphere, I very much cherish the partnership between the Embassy and nongovernmental organizations that devote their efforts to develop Bulgaria’s human capital, promote justice reform, and contribute to Bulgaria’s ongoing success and private business sector development.

In closing, I recognize that everything we have achieved so far in our broad partnership, has been built over thirty years of hard work by many of you here today.  Our successes have come through our mutual desire to see each other succeed and grow as Allies and partners in a free, secure, and prosperous world.  We have achieved a lot together in the past 30 years, that is for sure. Yet, we have much more on the horizon that we will be celebrating in the next three, thirty, and many more years to come.

During my time in Bulgaria, I hope to not only get to know ordinary Bulgarians, who exhibit courage, resilience, and creativity in their everyday lives, but also tap into the enormous potential of the Bulgarian people to take the U.S-Bulgarian partnership to a new level.  I am truly honored to be able to lead this important relationship and look forward to working with you all to achieve our common goals.