SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. And it’s a particular delight for me to welcome the Bulgarian delegation and especially Foreign Minister Zheleva, who has come to this position with a great background in academia and a great commitment to democracy. And it’s such a historic time for Europe and for the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
This year we are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. And that helped put Bulgaria on the path toward democracy and a market economy, both of which were reaffirmed in their recent elections. There was no way to know in 1989 how this would work out. But the transition, which has not always been easy, has made it possible for so many millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe to really have a place in charting their own future and making a claim to a better future, and I am very impressed by the remarkable progress that has been made.
We are also especially pleased that Bulgaria is a member of NATO and part of an alliance that is the most successful in history on behalf of collective security and rooted in mutual respect. We understand how intertwined our futures happen to be.
Today Bulgarian and American troops serve side by side as part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. We are greatly appreciative of the service of your soldiers and their sacrifice. And we know, too, that our bilateral relationship is one of strategic importance. We are committed to working bilaterally, as well as within NATO, and through the European Union, and with the important emphasis on all of the issues that are significant to both of us.
Today the foreign minister and I discussed how we can broaden and deepen our partnership. I commended Bulgaria’s efforts to root out corruption, to hold people accountable, to end impunity for public officials. I also congratulated the foreign minister on Bulgaria’s efforts to bring greater transparency to the energy sector. Our special envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar will be going back for his second trip to Bulgaria in about 10 days.
We talked about some of the economic challenges and the commercial ties that we wish to deepen. There is just so much that we see for a positive relationship between the United States and Bulgaria. So I want again to thank the foreign minister for her leadership and for her friendship and the friendship of the Bulgarian people, and I look forward to working with you in the future.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZHELEVA: Thank you, Madame Secretary. Today, I had a very constructive meeting with Madame Secretary Clinton. Thank you for that. Once again, I reaffirmed our commitment to our strategic partnership with the United States, and our determination to work together on global and regional security, as well as energy-related issues.
I described the significant commitment we are making to the fight against terrorism, and the role played by our brave troops in Afghanistan. I furthermore informed the Secretary about the efforts and the successes of our new government led by Prime Minister Borissov during the first hundred days in office. In particular, I elaborated on our efforts to overcome the dual challenge of organized crime and corruption.
During the meeting, we furthermore discussed regional challenges and the role played by Bulgaria in NATO and in the European Union. That role, as I pointed out to the Secretary, aims to enhance regional security and cooperation, and is contributing to the further strengthening of our transatlantic alliance. We have a very positive and interesting meeting, and I am very grateful for the support given to Bulgaria by the Madame Secretary. Thank you once again.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZHELEVA: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: The first question to Lachlan Carmichael from AFP.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, since we have an opportunity to talk to you, perhaps on another subject, Iraq? There’s a prospect of the electoral law being vetoed again. What kind of concerns do you have about that? And do you have any – can you use your influence to help get it passed, iron out the differences among the factions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Lachlan, we support the Iraqi Government’s efforts to pass an election law so that they can proceed with planned elections. We know that there are some continuing concerns as expressed by the vice president that have to be addressed. We will continue working with all of the parties. Our Ambassador, Chris Hill, on the ground has been deeply involved in doing so already.
This morning, I met and heard a report about the way forward. There are a number of ideas that we will be presenting. There’s an interim period because the Council of Representatives will not be meeting for a number of days that we think provide the opportunity for all the parties to come together, and with the help of not just the United States, but UNAMI and others to work out these continuing differences.
We believe on balance that there will be elections. They might slip by some period of time until this is worked out, because at some point the law has to be in place for the planning to begin, and so there necessarily needs to be a period of time in which the planning can occur. But we have every reason to believe that elections will be held, which will be another milestone on the journey that Iraqis are taking toward full and comprehensive democracy.
MODERATOR: Second question, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, my question is for you. What are Bulgaria’s chances to be included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program by the end of next year? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we discussed that. I must say your foreign minister was extremely strong and even passionate about the issue, and we share the concern. I told her that I would personally support efforts to have Bulgaria enter into the Visa Waiver Program as soon as the standards are met. We value Bulgaria as a close partner. The criteria for the program are established by countries, by – excuse me, the criteria for the program is established by Congress. Every country has to meet the same criteria. There’s no greater or lesser burden on Bulgaria than any other country.
And we offered to assist Bulgaria in doing what it must in order to qualify, because we encourage and welcome Bulgarians to come to the United States for business, for pleasure, for family reasons, because we want to not just have a good government-to-government relationship, but a good people-to-people relationship. So we’re going to do everything we can to assist Bulgaria in meeting the criteria.
MR. KELLY: Next question to Andy Quinn from Reuters.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, Andy.
QUESTION: Hi, Madame Secretary. I have a double-barreled question about Afghanistan. I hope you will allow it. A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said they’re considering inviting some members of the Taliban to take part in this loya jirga that they’re talking about. I’m wondering if they’ve run that idea past you and what you might think of it.
And secondly, the White House has announced a meeting tonight on Afghan policy. I’m wondering if you have any special expectations for this meeting and how many more you might think we’ll be seeing before the President rolls out his policy.
And for the foreign minister, I’d like to know what if – what Bulgaria is hoping to see in the U.S. policy on Afghanistan. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andy, first of all, the issue of how to reintegrate members of the Taliban who renounce violence, renounce ties with al-Qaida, are committed to participating peacefully in the political life of Afghanistan is something that has been discussed at length, both within the Afghan Government, within our own government, and between our governments. And obviously, we are going to ask questions about how it proceeds, but the general idea of exploring this is one that we have been open to.
With respect to the outcome of any such discussions, however, we have urged caution and real standards that are expected to be met by anyone who is engaged in these conversations, so that whatever process there is can actually further the stability and the peace of Afghanistan, not undermine it.
Regarding the meeting tonight, I will not preempt the President in any comments on the meeting. It is, as you pointed out, a meeting with his principal advisors on national security and will be focused on the issues leading up to the decision that he will be making and announcing with respect to Afghanistan.
FOREIGN MINISTER ZHELEVA: So, thank you for the question. And being both member of the European Union and NATO, my country is very much interested to contributing the process of developing Afghanistan on both tracks, military as well as civilian track. And my country is among the partners of NATO, of the coalition. We have a high contribution, so – to this coalition and to the efforts of the international community. That is why we are looking very much, and we appreciate the important role of United States in both – so from one side in enhancing the European Union-U.S. relations on this issue, and on the other side also within the NATO.
And what we hope to see is, of course, a more coordinated approach, more coordinated efforts of all the partners. And we will contribute and we will do our part, of course, as a member of – as I already mentioned, NATO and European Union, because this is very important issue, so – to contribute to the democratization process in Afghanistan.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much for that, Foreign Minister.
MODERATOR: Next question Nikola Miladinov, Bulgarian National Radio.
QUESTION: Hello, Madame Secretary. Let’s continue a bit about Afghanistan because Madame Zheleva said that we will do our part. So will the United States ask Bulgaria for further increasing of its military presence in Afghanistan and sending more troops? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me start by saying that Minister Zheleva was absolutely right in describing the commitment that we have seen from Bulgaria to this NATO mission, and we greatly appreciate Bulgaria’s contributions to the multinational effort in Afghanistan. And we know also that Bulgaria made contributions and sacrifices in Iraq as well.
We believe we face a common threat and a common enemy that goes to the heart of what collective defense means in the 21st century. And I have been quite impressed by the understanding that the new members of NATO, primarily from Central and Eastern Europe, have exhibited with their understanding and their willingness to participate.
The Bulgarian troops have served with distinction. I’ve heard that time and time again. And we regularly work with them to determine what contributions are appropriate for them to make. We cannot put ourselves in the position of the Bulgarian Government and the Bulgarian people. We obviously value this relationship, both on a bilateral as well as a multilateral basis, and we’re going to work with our friends in Bulgaria going forward to learn what kind of contributions on both the military and the civilian side are possible, which is what the minister said, and I appreciate her explanation and her commitment.
MR. KELLY: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all. Always good to see you. See, none of the people who are here were on my long, never-ending trip. (Laughter.) I think everybody else is still recovering.
QUESTION: I’m the only one standing. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my goodness. Thank you all very much, and thanks to our friends from the Bulgarian press as well.
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