Bulgaria and the United States have signed a defence co-operation agreement that sets out conditions for the shared use of military facilities on the Balkan country's territory over the next ten years.
(Reuters, BBC, International Herald Tribune, BTA, BNN, Sofia News Agency, Dnevnik.bg, Mediapool, Sofia Echo - 28/04/06; AP, Reuters, Sofia News Agency - 27/04/06; US Embassy in Bulgaria - 26/04/06)
Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev (right) welcomes US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before their meeting in Sofia on Friday (28 April). Earlier in the day, Rice and Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin signed a bilateral agreement to share military facilities in Bulgaria. [Getty Images]
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Bulgarian counterpart Ivailo Kalfin signed a defence co-operation agreement in Sofia on Friday (28 April). The document sets out conditions for the shared use of military facilities on the Balkan country's territory.
"The agreement indeed will enhance our co-operation, allowing the shared use of Bulgarian training facilities and strengthening our ability to operate militarily," Rice said after the signing ceremony, on the sidelines of an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Sofia.
She said she also expects the deal to help Bulgaria modernise its armed forces and boost their interoperability with US forces and other allies within NATO.
The agreement allows US forces to use three military bases in Bulgaria -- the Novo Selo shooting range and the Bezmer airfield, both some 300km east of Sofia near the border with Turkey, as well as the Graf Ignatievo air base in central Bulgaria. A storage facility near the Black Sea port of Burgas is also included in the agreement.
Both sides have stressed that these will continue to be "Bulgarian bases under Bulgarian flag and under Bulgarian command".
Signing the agreement reinforces strategic security in Bulgaria and in the region, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev said on Friday.
The historic deal, approved by the Bulgarian government earlier this week, needs to be ratified by parliament to become effective. It will be in force for an initial period of ten years, but either party will be able to terminate it at a year's notice.
The agreement sets the stage for deployment of some 2,500 US troops on short rotations to Bulgaria, with the first batch expected to arrive at the end of this year or in early 2007. For periods of up to 30 days during rotations, the total number of soldiers may reach 5,000.
The deal allows the United States to send troops deployed in Bulgaria on missions in third countries in consultation with -- but if need be, without the specific permission of -- the Sofia government, the BBC reported.
Both parties have ruled out the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being stored in the shared facilities.
"The agreements between the United States and Russia on non-deployment of nuclear weapons in the new NATO member states guarantees that there will be no nuclear weapons in Bulgaria," Kalfin said recently.
Bulgaria believes that its reforming armed forces will be among those who will benefit most from the deal.
"We expect this agreement for joint training and joint use of existing military facilities in Bulgaria together with the American armed forces to increase the capacities of the Bulgarian Army," said foreign ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev.
The agreement is also expected to bring about some economic benefits, particularly in the areas surrounding the three bases, where it is expected to create new jobs and help attract millions of dollars in foreign investment, including for the repair of roads, railroad terminals and other infrastructure.
"We think that in the economy, the joint use of these military facilities will lead to an increase in the confidence in our country on behalf of investors and improve the general investment climate in our country," Tsanchev said.