US Secretary of State John Kerry Visiting Bulgaria to Discuss Energy, Trade, SecurityDiplomacy | January 15, 2015, Thursday // 08:05| views
John Kerry arrived in Sofia early on Thursday, January 15, amid beefed-up security. Photo by BGNES
US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet with Bulgarian officials during his visit to the country on Thursday, with energy, trade, influx of migrants and defense cooperation on the agenda.
Security has been beefed up in downtown Sofia, where Kerry's meetings are due to take place. People on a number of streets have been asked not to open their windows between 18:00 (January 14) and 22:00 (January 15).
Residents will be unable to park their vehicles at the Nezavisimost Square (at the National Assembly), behind the Parliament building (near the Alexander Nevsky cathedral), on Battenberg Square and around the Presidency.
For most of January 15, parking will not be allowed in a number of streets in downtown Sofia where Kerry's convoy is to pass.
The venues of the official events will not be available to reporters, but only to photographers and cameramen.
For the US top diplomat's visit, talks have been scheduled Bulgaria's President Rosen Plevneliev, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov.
Victoria Nuland, Kerry's deputy on European and Eurasian affairs who was in the country in end-March 2014, is accompanying him.
Shale gas exploration is also expected to be at the core of bilateral meetings, experts believe. Bulgaria banned fracking in January 2012, under Borisov's previous government, and some reports suggest Sofia is now being pressured into lifting the moratorium in the aftermath of Russia's decision to abandon the South Stream gas pipeline project.
Apart from the issue of fracking, a deal with US-based Westinghouse pending approval from Borisov's cabinet might also be touched as a subject. The previous elected government inked during its last week in office a shareholders' agreement with Westinghouse on the expansion of the Kozloduy nuclear plant, and it is yet to be given the green light by the current Council of Ministers.
The diplomatic event also comes against the background of ongoing talks between EU and the US on a free-trade deal, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). On Wednesday President Plevneliev spoke in favour of continued TTIP negotiations.
The US Department of State earlier said in a statement Kerry's meetings would be focused on "security cooperation, energy diversification, and the bilateral trade and investment relationship".
Kerry, who arrived just after 01:00 EET (23:00 GMT) on Thursday, will spend less than a day in Bulgaria before heading to France, where he is expected to mend up ties with French officials after being subjected to criticism that neither he nor President Obama attended the unity rally held in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attack.
He is the second Secretary of State from the Obama administration visiting the country. His predecessor Hillary Clinton formally resigned in February 2013.
Kerry is also the second top diplomat of a Western country to meet Bulgarian politicians in less than 24 hours, with Philip Hammond, Britain's Foreign Secretary, having paid a visit on Wednesday.
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