- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

A Bulgarian delegation led by the defense minister received long-awaited and hard-earned praise from U.S. officials this week for implementing tough reforms that would bring the Balkan country closer to NATO membership.
In an official assessment to be formally handed to the Bulgarian government on April 23, the United States will commend Bulgarian determination to fulfill the recommendations of the Western alliance, Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said in an interview. NATO is poised to take in as many as seven new members at a Prague summit in November.
"It's important that we realize all we have planned in the coming months, so that we can have reasons to expect an invitation in Prague," Mr. Svinarov said.
In a two-day marathon of meetings with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and other Bush administration officials, the Bulgarian delegation presented in detail the reforms that are already under way as well as those about to begin.
"We have to discharge 7,000 personnel from the military and destroy weapons and equipment, because we can't sell them to those countries we can trade with," Mr. Svinarov said. "This is a hard procedure and we expect support, including financial, from the United States and other NATO members."
Bulgaria is also awaiting an estimate from Washington of the compensation the Balkan nation will receive for destroying Soviet-era SS-23 missiles, according to an agreement reached in December, he said.
A NATO requirement, which Bulgaria has yet to meet, is having an all-volunteer military. But while its military doctrine commits the government to achieving that objective by 2010, the country's defense law calls for a mandatory draft.
Mr. Svinarov said the parliament is already working on a "normative mechanism" to reconcile that discrepancy.
Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies on Thursday that he had been impressed by Bulgaria's reforms during a visit to Sofia, the capital, in February. He toured all nine NATO applicants.
Mr. Svinarov said he will never forget that meeting, "which lasted two and a half hours instead of the scheduled 40 minutes, and I was cross-examined on everything I knew and didn't know."
The defense minister was in Washington to prepare the visit of Bulgarian Prime Minister and former King Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha later this month.
Bulgaria's and Romania's NATO aspirations received a boost from the Bush administration at a summit of the nine candidates in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, last month. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said President Bush was committed to a large expansion, from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

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