Washington, 11 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States used the visit of Bulgaria's President Petar Stoyanov to the White House Tuesday to launch a new effort at closer cooperation with the nations of Southeast Europe.
Called the Southeast Europe Action Plan, the program is designed to expand American relations with these countries while promoting greater regional cooperation and encouraging closer ties with the European Union (EU).
The plan was announced in a joint statement on what it called a "new era" of U.S.-Bulgarian relations. In the statement, released after a one-hour White House meeting, Stoyanov and U.S. President Bill Clinton said the plan will be translated into concrete projects in economic and commercial cooperation, political-military affairs and law enforcement cooperation.
"We've had enough of rather sweeping declarations," Stoyanov told reporters waiting on the White House driveway. "I wanted this joint statement to be down to earth and to be meaningful."
But he said the White House meeting with Clinton, and the new action plan, were most important because they were "a strong encouraging sign for the Bulgarian people -- they need this at this difficult time of reform."
In the joint statement, Clinton noted the "historic changes" that have taken place in Bulgaria over the last year and the "key role" played by Stoyanov. Clinton said that under Stoyanov, Bulgaria has "aligned itself firmly" with the family of democratic nations, moved forward with difficult economic reforms, strengthened civil institutions and stepped up its fight against organized crime.
A White House official said the U.S. sees Stoyanov as one of the "new, young dynamic leaders" in this area of the world who is committee to democratic reform and has put Bulgaria "on the right track." The key message Clinton wanted to convey, said the official, was that the U.S. strongly supports the direction Bulgaria is taking.
The White House official, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of not being named, described the meeting between Stoyanov and Clinton as "very warm" and said the "chemistry was very good" between the two leaders.
That was obvious as Clinton saw Stoyanov to his waiting limousine, giving him a warm handshake and clasp on the arm.
Stoyanov agreed, saying he found Clinton in a "very good mood" and that they had exchanged some jokes and anecdotes.
While they clearly hit it off on a personal level, Stoyanov was particularly pleased about the broad range of important topics he was able to cover with Clinton.
"We discussed the place and role of Bulgaria in the Balkans, in an instrumental way," he told reporters, including conversations on Bosnia, Greece, Turkey and Sofia's hopes for NATO membership.
The joint statement said Clinton reaffirmed America's commitment to NATO'S open door policy and welcomed Bulgaria's aspiration to join.
Stoyanov said "Bulgaria will need to be a strong candidate for NATO and it will hopefully be in the next wave."
The Action Plan for Southeast Asia announced as a centerpiece of the U.S.-Bulgarian summit has three goals, according to the White House. First, the U.S. promised to expand bilateral political, economic, military and civil cooperation with all the countries of the region, including Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Albania.
Secondly, the U.S. will work to promote greater regional cooperation, and as well as to work bilaterally and multilaterally, particularly with the European Union (EU), to "embed" the countries of the region into what it calls the evolving architecture of European and transatlantic institutions.
The U.S. says the plan will bring together many existing assistance programs in addition to some new ones.
For example, a grant of $250,000 will be made by the U.S. Information Agency for a new education curriculum in Bulgaria promoting democratic values, a U.S. military liaison team will become resident in the Bulgarian ministry of defense, and the U.S. will increase the funds for training police and other law enforcement professionals in Bulgaria.
The plan will take in existing programs, such as the $31 million designated for the SEED (Support for East European Democracy) program in the region.