Sofia, 3 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen says Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov told him today that Sofia will work for cooperation and stability among Balkan states. Earlier, Cohen said that Bulgaria will be very high on the list of NATO membership the next time the Alliance decides to invite new members. He said he was impressed by Bulgaria's military reforms, particularly its improving civilian control over the military.
Cohen, who met with Stoyanov for an hour this morning, praised the president for what he called "his dynamism, his vision and the hope he instils in the people of his country."
Cohen is in Sofia for a meeting of defense ministers from eight southeast European countries. Taking part in the Sofia discussions were ministers from Romania, Slovenia and Macedonia, each of which is hoping to join the 16-member alliance. NATO members Greece, Turkey and Italy also participated.
NATO has offered membership to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, but has set no date for further expansion. The three NATO invitees sent observers.
Romania and Macedonia were contenders for invitations to join NATO in the first round, but failed to make the cut at the NATO summit in Madrid in July.
At the defense ministers meeting today, Albania said its armed forces were now under the full control of the civilian administration. Albanian Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj said that the main aim of the new government in Tirana is peace and stability in the region.
The U.S. has fostered the meetings to involve the former east bloc countries in western institutions and security structures.
Russia earlier had protested it was not invited to the talks. Bulgaria, the host country, said it didn't invite Russia because it's not in southeastern Europe and is not pursuing NATO membership. Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia also were not invited.