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Bulgaria: Prime Minister Calls For NATO Expansion Timetable

  • Roland Eggleston

Crans-Montana, Switzerland; 30 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov Saturday urged NATO to set a timetable at its Madrid summit next month for the admission of new members after the first wave.

Kostov told an international meeting in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana that he recognized that Bulgaria had no chance of being accepted in NATO's first wave of expansion although it met the principal requirements for membership. But he said Bulgaria and other countries hoped that the Madrid summit would produce a "clear integration agenda" for the years ahead which would lead to full membership for Bulgaria.

Kostov said his government recognized that the Madrid summit "will probably fail to take fully into account the strategic realities and needs of southeastern Europe, as well as the potential for candidates from that region." But he said the summit should recognize that in the future NATO enlargement should be a "geographically-balanced process" leading to equal security in the region and "eliminating the risk of new lines of division and gray zones."

He said accession to NATO was important for Bulgaria. "It is not merely a search for a reliable security umbrella," he said. "Membership of NATO and the European Union will restore our natural and legitimate membership of the European family of free and democratic nations."

He said the new Bulgarian government had drawn up a program to "lead the country into the 21st century as a modern European democracy and market economy."

Most of its goals would be achieved by Bulgaria's own efforts. "But the reforms also need an external environment of security and stability," he said. "Bulgaria's decision to seek full NATO membership is one of the key factors for the country's modernization".

He said membership of NATO would also benefit the economy by creating a positive climate for foreign investment and economic activity. "If Bulgaria joins NATO these investments will be protected by long-term military and political guarantees," he said. He also promised a reliable transport and energy infrastructure to encourage foreign investors.

Kostov said Bulgaria already possessed a solid military and industrial basis for its integration into NATO. He said it was now making this more efficient with an accelerated restructuring of the military and industrial complex with the involvement of foreign partners, mainly from the NATO countries. He said the aim was to create a modern army which would meet NATO standards.

"The gradual transition to a downsized, but well-trained and armed professional army will make it possible for the country to contribute effectively to collective defense and to the implementation of NATO's new tasks," he said.

Our correspondent says that the new chief of staff of the Bulgarian army, General Miho Mihov, announced on June 19 that Bulgaria was planning to replace its conscript army with professionals and reduce personnel by ten per cent. For the time being, the army will remain a mixture of professionals and conscripts but from September 1 it will be offering three-year contracts to professionals.

Bulgaria's foreign minister, Nadezhda Mihailova, said last week she was optimistic about Bulgaria's prospects of eventual membership in NATO. She told reporters in Washington that Bulgaria's record of stability and its key position in the Balkans make it a "solid choice" for future NATO membership.