US to Work on Boosting Bulgaria's Energy Security - Secretary of State Kerry

Diplomacy | January 15, 2015, Thursday // 13:47|  views

Borisov (L) and Kerry (R) outside the Council of Ministers in Sofia after their meeting and joint press conference on Thursday, January 15. Photo by BGNES

The US is committed to Bulgaria's energy security and to curbing its energy dependence, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said while on a visit to Sofia.

In a press conference with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov following their meeting on Thursday, Kerry announced Washington would send an energy expert to work with Bulgaria's Energy Ministry to help draw a plan for the Southeast European country's energy future in the aftermath of the abandoned South Stream gas pipeline project, the end of which raises concerns of Bulgaria's citizens.

The top US diplomat will also seek to secure EU funding for Bulgaria's gas interconnection link with Greece, a prospect he has already discussed with the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Energy Union Maro? ?ef?ovi?.

Kerry added the two countries would increase the number of joint drills, reiterating that the US was supportive of Bulgaria's plans to "optimize" its armed forces to achieve compatibility with NATO requirements.

There will be ongoing bilateral cooperation in security, defense and energy security, as well as rule of law, education and the process of deepening ties between the peoples of Bulgaria and the US, with work groups to be set up on each of those issues, the two have announced at their press conference.

Kerry asserted he had come to convince each Bulgarian that America is committed to helping strengthen the country's democracy, its institutions and rule of law. He also said Washington was supportive of the current government's plans to reform the judicial system and fighting organized crime and corruption. He warned that, in the case of Bulgaria, tackling corruption was crucial for improving investment climate.

In his words, "a lot of issues" were covered in the meeting he held with Borisov, including energy diversification.

"A lot of time" was spent discussing energy security, Kerry admitted, stressing Bulgaria's need to diversify energy sources and improve energy ties with neighboring countries.

Asked whether the pending deal with Westinghouse to expand the Kozloduy NPP and the banned exploration for shale gas had been on the agenda, Kerry confirmed, adding there were "very big" investment opportunities.

At a certain point however Borisov interrupted him to remind the ban on shale gas exploration and drilling would remain in place until an environmentally safe technology was developed.

Borisov added Bulgaria and the US would also explore opportunities to finance the Kozloduy NPP's Unit 7, which is most likely to be built by Westinghouse after last year's shareholders' agreement, with a Bulgaria-US work group to further study the project.

However, Kerry was clear no further progress was possible on scrapping US visas for Bulgarian citizens. The visa program "is very specific" and requires the fulfillment of "certain criteria", with a requirement that the percentage of visa denials be below 3%, compared to 15% for Bulgaria in 2014, he reminded, but also pointed out that Washington was determined to continue working on that issue in the future.

Kerry said the US was "impressed" with the programme and agenda of Borisov in his second term and approved his efforts to achieve diversification.

The US Secretary of State said he respected Bulgaria's sovereignty and security, in what some experts suggested was an apparent reference to comments of Russian President Vladimir Putin that Bulgaria was not behaving like a sovereign country.

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Tags: John Kerry, Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria, US, energy, shale gas, Westinghouse, Federica Mogherini, Maro? ?ef?ovi?


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