Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. As you know we had a meeting of the defense ministers today, earlier this morning. It is the first plenary session, there will be another session this afternoon. Your defense minister invited me following my first visit here in July, to return to attend that meeting and I am pleased to have been able to do so.
In addition to encouraging the promotion of stability in the greater region and more regional cooperation, we also want to take advantage of the chance to talk with your President. We just concluded a meeting with your President. I had a very good discussion with him, and I am optimistic and encouraged by his leadership, his dynamism, his vision and I hope that he instills it in his people throughout this country.
He is providing the people of Bulgaria bold, visionary leadership. The country is going through some difficult times now, but he is asking the Bulgarian people to stay the course, and if the people stay the course that he is carrying them forward on.... I believe--I am satisfied with his leadership and that of his entire Cabinet and administration--that prosperity will come to Bulgaria, that prosperity will build upon itself, and that Bulgaria will indeed be very high on the list of those countries who'd be considered for potential membership in NATO in the future and contribute to the overall security and stability of the region itself.
I also took note of the fact that a recent poll of the Bulgarian people indicated that they have a very high opinion of the United States, but question the level of interest on the part of the United States in Bulgaria and its future. My return here for the second time, I think, should be some indication, that we are indeed concerned about the people of Bulgaria and your future. Tomorrow we will have, I think, a very significant event take place. We have the delivery of some significant supplies of medical equipment for distribution to your hospitals. And now I invite your questions.
Q: You pointed out that Bulgaria needs an economic reform and they need an awful lot in military reform. Have you seen any improvement in that and, if so, what's the improvement and what still needs to be done?
Secretary Cohen: As a matter of fact, there has been improvement, as I mentioned during my presentation at the plenary session this morning, one of the most important elements of restructuring the military is to ensure that it is shaped in a way that will be beneficial not only to protecting Bulgaria's national interests but also to help become more interoperable with NATO countries and Partnership for Peace Program countries.
In addition to that, it has been brought to my attention that very recently the civilian control over the military has been progressing here in Bulgaria. This is a key element for future integration or accession into NATO and something is now being achieved here in Bulgaria.
Q: Any particular exercises under the Partnership for Peace activity?
Secretary Cohen: There have been a number of initiatives that are under consideration for Bulgaria's participation in the Partnership for Peace type of exercises. There is the Black Sea initiative, which has been instituted by Bulgaria.
I have just concluded conversations with the President of Bulgaria where he has indicated that he is trying to, he is in fact going to be encouraging greater regional cooperation and so, I think, the evidence is clear that they are on the path to cooperation under the Partnership for Peace activities and on a step-by-step process of trying to get access to NATO.
Q: We have one question about Bulgaria and the role that Russia plays in the NATO membership process.
Secretary Cohen: I believe that Russia obviously plays an important role for the security in Europe and that is the reason we have established the NATO Russia charter.
I just returned and came here directly from Maastricht where I had an occasion to spend some time with the new defense minister Sergeyev. I had a very constructive, and I think positive conversation with him, which will build a relationship that will be very important for European security in the future.
With respect to the conference today, the conference influenced those countries who are engaged in Partnership for Peace activities and also those who wish to gain entry into NATO in the future and that is the reason why countries were invited.
Q: The EC-130's in Bosnia…have they been tested?
Secretary Cohen: I have not been brought up-to-date in terms of the use of the aircraft to the extent that if it becomes necessary to use them then it will be something allowed mandate.