QUESTION: Bulgaria and the U.S. are half way through their 10 year contract for the joint military facilities in our country. What is your assessment for our cooperation in the last 5 years? Are you looking to renew the contract or its too early to say?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We have been very positive about our cooperation with Bulgaria in the NATO alliance. We are very appreciative of Bulgaria’s work on a number of very important projects with regard to the NATO alliance and our defense cooperation. Bulgaria’s overall willingness to work with the NATO alliance and the Unted States on important military and security aspects of the relationship has been well noted in Washington.
QUESTION: The modernization of the Bulgarian army in the last years happened to be with second hand equipment. Belgium sold us old frigates and a mine hunter. And the U.S. want to sell us old but cheap jet fighters. The Englishmen have a saying: I am not rich enough to buy cheap things. What do you think of that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: (Laughing) That’s a funny quote. In this period of budget austerity – there is a debate on our defense budget in Washington right now and I know that Bulgaria knows you have to be concerned about taxpayer’s money – it’s a good thing to be frugal. I want to reiterate that the used equipment’s operational capabilities are not worse than that of new equipment. Yes, it’s true they have been used and that’s why they are cheaper, but from a technical point of view, they are safe. I think that you can look at this issue from the point of view of practical frugality, which would be of use for the Bulgarian tax payers. Many NATO members and various U.S. military units use second hand equipment and they are in perfect condition.
QUESTION: Bulgaria will not host elements from the U.S. missile shield which will be deployed in Romania and Turkey. Does that mean that we will take security for granted from our neighbors?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Bulgaria’s support for NATO policies and especially for the European Adaptive Phased Approach to missile defense is a very important aspect of the joint cooperation which Washington highly appreciates. The Adaptive Phased Approach was designed as a system to protect the NATO member countries. Bulgaria will definitely benefit from it.
QUESTION: The US missile shield infuriated Russia. Moscow threatened that if Washington proceeds with it, Russia may withdraw from the START II treaty and will deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad. How will you convince the Russians that your missiles are not against them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: The Russians repeatedly express their concerns. They did that during the negotiations for the New START treaty. Their concerns was heard when the treaty entered into force. The new Start treaty is very beneficial to Russia’s and U.S. national security. Russian inspectors come to the United States, our inspectors visit Russia. This is about building mutual trust and security. The Russians, however, continue to express their concerns about missile defense. We are trying to convince them that our missile defense will not undermine their strategic offensive deterrent. We are working hard to convince them, if they need convincing, that they can join us and we can cooperate in the missile defense project. It is by cooperation in these detailed technical projects, joint exercises and even centers where we would be exchanging data, that we can find pragmatic cooperation which will give them confidence about the system’s capability. And by these means they can realize that the system is incapable of undermining their strategic offensive deterrent. We are going to continue that effort to convince them that the system is not designed against Russia, but rather against new missile threats, particularly from the Middle East.
QUESTION: Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin boasted recently “We are the largest nuclear power”. Did the US get the message?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We know how considerable Russia’s nuclear capabilities are. The U.S. and Russia together deploy over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that Russia has been very experienced and skilled at deploying nuclear weapons since the 1950s. Both our countries had 12000 nuclear warheads when the first START treaty entered into force. After the new treaty, we will have 1550 each. This is a big step forward for both countries.
QUESTION: So there’s no larger or smaller power. You are equal?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We are equal. We will be equal.
QUESTION: Next year there will be Presidential Elections both in the US and in Russia. Will we witness growing confrontation between the two countries in order for their leaders to demonstrate muscles to the voters?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It is hard to predict what the political environment will be like. I was living in Moscow the last time there was an election in 2008 when Presidents Medvedev and Obama were elected. The same year we were able to achieve some very significant accomplishments. At that time, Russian President Putin met with President Bush in Sochi in April of that year and came out with some significant agreements including in the area of nuclear arms control and missile defense cooperation. Our experience shows that even during an election year we can make progress.
QUESTION: The United States has stopped sharing all information with Russia about its conventional weapons in Europe. What will be the consequences of this step? Do you expect Russia to intensify its espionage activities?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It’s not just the U.S., but a number of signatories of the treaty, including Bulgaria, that took the step to cease implementation of the CFE treaty with regards to Russia. This was in response to Russia’s decision to suspend the CFE treaty implementation in 2007. My boss - Secretary of State Clinton – has been very clear with her Russian counterpart Lavrov that Russia cannot continue to suspend its implementation while the rest of the signatories do nothing. These are justified measures. We hope and we urge Russia to return to the implementation of the CFE treaty.
QUESTION: In the last couple of years the battle for Europe looks like this – Russia entangles the continent with gas pipelines and the U.S. are going ahead with the defense missile shield. In other words it is a battle between the economics against the security. Who will win it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: I am not sure I accept the premise of your question. I think the U.S. has many economic interests in Europe, which is among our largest trading partner. We are much engaged on the economic front. At the same time, Russia has a number of security interests in Europe and is working to continue, we hope, to cooperate in the NATO-Russia Council. So it’s not all economics on the Russian side and all security on the American side. It’s more of a mixed picture than that. We need to find a win-win situation - to guarantee all of Europe’s security and to make sure the Russians don’t feel like losers.
QUESTION: One of our options to reduce Bulgaria’s energy dependence from Russia is the extraction of shale gas by Chevron. But there are potential risks for the environment. Which one is the lesser evil?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: In the U.S., we have been debating the shale gas issue. Bulgaria should take a good look at the environmental impact. You can look at other countries, too, like Poland, which is considering shale gas production. Given the U.S. experience, I would say – consider this issue well because shale gas has helped us with ou