Saturday, January 17, 2015

U.S. to Help Bulgaria Depend Less on Russians

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the United States would help Bulgaria reduce its dependence on Russia for energy supplies. Bulgaria, a member of NATO, relies on Russia for 85 percent of the gas it uses and for 100 percent of its nuclear fuel, according to American officials. “No country in the world should be totally dependent for its energy supply on one other country,” Mr. Kerry, who is making his first trip here as secretary of state, said in a joint news conference with Boiko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister. “The United States is prepared to help Bulgaria, which has made difficult decisions in order to try to protect its energy future,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are committed to try to help attract investment and provide assistance.” While in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Borisov and with the country’s president and foreign minister. He left midafternoon to fly to Paris, where he will meet Friday morning with President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius — an addition to his schedule in response to complaints about the United States’ decision not to send a senior official to Sunday’s memorial rally and march after last week’s deadly terrorist attacks. Photo Secretary of State John Kerry Credit Rick Wilking/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images “My visit to France is basically to share a big hug with Paris, and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there who have been through a terrible time,” Mr. Kerry said. On Friday, Mr. Kerry will also speak along with the mayor of Paris at the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall. They will be joined by the singer James Taylor, who was born in Boston and whom Mr. Kerry knows from his years as a senator from Massachusetts. Mr. Taylor will perform, according to a State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry. But the official declined to say which song, or songs, Mr. Taylor would sing. In Sofia, however, the focus was on helping Bulgaria move out of Russia’s economic shadow. Beyond Bulgaria’s energy dependence, Russia’s state-owned banks and politicians have helped the Kremlin exert influence on Bulgarian politics, including energy-related decisions. “There is evidence of some Russian engagement through financial support and other things in the politics of Bulgaria,” Mr. Kerry said. One major challenge is to develop an alternative to the South Stream pipeline project, which would have funneled gas to Bulgaria through a pipeline under the Black Sea but was canceled by Russia as tensions between the Kremlin and the West grew over the crisis in Ukraine. Photo Prime Minister Boiko Borisov of Bulgaria Credit Rick Wilking/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images A senior State Department official said the United States was working with officials in Sofia and Athens to possibly establish a pipeline to Bulgaria from a liquefied-natural-gas terminal in Greece. But the official, who declined to be identified under the State Department’s procedures for briefing reporters, acknowledged that such discussions were at a “preliminary stage.” “We’re also talking to them about diversifying their nuclear energy options and other options,” the official said, alluding to a possible project in which Westinghouse Electric Company would build a nuclear power plant. Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Mr. Kerry said that the United States would send an energy envoy to Bulgaria and that the Export-Import Bank of the United States would be involved. But he cautioned that any effort to attract investment to Bulgaria and to protect it from Russian meddling would also depend on the country’s ability to fight corruption. “Here in Bulgaria, it is not just about the democracy of the country,” he said. “It is about providing a climate for investment and shielding the country from those who exploit the situation to gain undue influence over your choices as a nation.” During the news conference, Mr. Kerry said that in his recent conversations with the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, he had continued to raise the plight of American citizens who have been imprisoned by Iran. But Mr. Kerry did not say whether the United States would be willing to negotiate an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and lift economic sanctions against Tehran if the Americans remained imprisoned. When the subject shifted to Boko Haram’s recent attacks in Nigeria, Mr. Kerry called them “a crime against humanity” and said he was working with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, on a “special initiative” to respond to the violence. He gave no details, and it was not clear whether he had a diplomatic step, like an international conference, or something more NY Times January 13 2015

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