- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

The United States said yesterday it is working with the Bulgarian government on an investigation of an illegal transfer of military equipment to Syria that might have been destined for Iraq.
The state-owned company, Terem, had sold spare parts for armored personnel carriers to a Syrian-based company, and the parts were discovered at the Turkey-Syria border, Bulgarian officials said. The deal was not authorized by the Bulgarian government, the officials said.
The State Department said authorities in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, are "actively investigating" the case and "looking closer into allegations that the equipment may have been intended for subsequent transfer to Iraq."
"We are working with Bulgaria to establish effective safeguards to prevent reoccurrence of illegal arms transfers," a State Department official said.
"The Bulgarian authorities are taking vigorous action against the contractor, including the head of the company and other relevant personnel," the official said. "The Bulgarian police have also detained several individuals for questioning."
In Sofia, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy told reporters his country's chances of winning an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's Prague summit next week had been threatened by the revelations.
Syria and Iraq are on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"We are in trouble," Mr. Passy said. "This arms scandal pushes Bulgaria's membership chances back. We have a serious problem and even if we manage to win an invitation, we will have problems with the ratification by the U.S. Senate."
Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and President Georgi Parvanov agreed with the foreign minister, but they said they still hope their nation will receive an invitation from NATO.
The State Department official, asked whether the recent developments would affect Washington's decision on Bulgaria's candidacy, said there are a number of factors the United States is considering in its evaluation of the applicant countries.
"We have raised concerns about proliferation, along with other issues, with all NATO aspirants," the official said.

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