- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bulgaria’s billion

The speaker of the Bulgarian parliament hopes the United States will help his country recover more than $1 billion in debt that Iraq owes to the new Balkan democracy.

“We hope the United States will find a suitable way to compensate Bulgaria,” Ognian Gerdjikov told reporters over breakfast at the Hay-Adams Hotel yesterday. “But we don’t expect the United States to pull $1 billion out of its pockets.”

Mr. Gerdjikov said he prefers to see his country get a slice of the reconstruction contracts in Iraq or be repaid in Iraqi oil.

“A billion dollars might not be a lot to the United States, but it represents one-tenth of our gross domestic product,” he said.

The debt is from contracts with Iraq before United Nations sanctions were imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, just two years after the fall of communism in Bulgaria.

Mr. Gerdjikov, on his first visit to the United States, met yesterday with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. On Wednesday, he held talks with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, among others.

In all of his meetings, Mr. Gerdjikov emphasized Bulgaria’s strong alliance with the United States and its contributions to peacekeeping in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it deployed 480 troops.

He added that Bulgaria is also considering a U.S. request to station American troops in its country as part of a restructuring of U.S. power in Europe.

“We have an agreement in principle,” he said.

Mr. Gerdjikov noted that Bulgaria is celebrating 100 years of diplomatic relations with the United States.

“Our relations have gone up and down,” he said, noting that the low point was under communist rule. “Now our relations have never been better, never more significant.”

Mr. Gerdjikov regrets that diplomatic relations are not as strong as economic relations with the United States, which ranks sixth among Bulgaria’s trading partners.

“We have a very conducive investment climate,” he said.

Mr. Gerdjikov, on his first visit to the United States, is proud that Bulgaria has displayed little of the anti-Americanism found in France, Germany and some other European nations.

“For Bulgaria, America is a model democracy,” he said.

Mr. Gerdjikov is also impressed that he found none of the ethnic rivalries in the United States like those that ravaged the Balkans.

“I am impressed that whoever I meet, no matter where their ancestors were from, they are proud to call themselves Americans,” he said.

Mr. Gerdjikov, accompanied by Deputy Speaker Kamelia Kassabova and Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, will address the Center for Strategic and International Studies today.

Robertson rebuked

The association representing 11,000 U.S. diplomats this week denounced television evangelist the Rev. Pat Robertson for saying he wanted to blow up the State Department with a nuclear bomb.

“Mr. Robertson, your comments on the need to ‘nuke’ and ‘gut’ the Department of State is the same rhetoric America’s enemies use to inflame their followers. … They preach indiscriminate destruction and murder,” John Limbert, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said in a letter.

Mr. Robertson on his “700 Club” program this week tried to defang his earlier comments by saying he made the remarks in a “laughing fashion” and that he did not really want to destroy the State Department, just “gut” it.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Robertson said he was enraged after reading a new book, “Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens American Security.”

“I mean, you get through this [book] and you say to yourself, ‘We’ve got to blow this thing up.’ ” he said in an interview with the author, Joel Mowbray of the National Review.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]om.

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