Cablegate: Progress On U.S. Military Access, but Tough Issues

Published: Mon 17 Oct 2005 02:11 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 001796
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/17/2015
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Jeffrey D. Levine, for reasons 1.4 a a
nd d.
1. (C) SUMMARY: A negotiating team led by Ambassador Robert
Loftis made significant progress toward concluding a
supplemental Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the GOB
during talks in Sofia October 6-7. Significant work remains
to be done, however, in the areas of freedom of movement and
criminal jurisdiction, both of which are of prime importance
to the United States. Following up on the team's first visit
to Sofia May 16-17 (reftel), U.S. and Bulgarian negotiators
discussed a revised U.S. supplemental SOFA proposal, proposed
GOB revisions to the supplemental, and the GOB's
significantly revised draft of the Defense Cooperation
Agreement (DCA). The GOB initially indicated its desire to
include in the DCA language covering a much larger sphere of
security cooperation than that envisioned by the U.S., but
agreed to set the treatment of these issues aside for the
moment. Press coverage of the talks was uncharacteristically
negative, indicating that opponents -- perhaps including
third countries -- seek an opportunity to derail them. END
2. (C) The leader of the Bulgarian negotiating team,
Ambassador Lubomir Ivanov, told Amb. Loftis that the GOB
wished to discuss a wide range of topics in addition to the
supplemental Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Defense
Cooperation Agreement (DCA), including cooperative research
and development, expanded relations between scientific and
technical communities, and a framework for political-military
consultations. He noted that in drafting their versions of
the DCA and Supplemental SOFA they had relied on other
agreements that the USG had entered into with other NATO
allies (e.g., Turkey and Spain). Amb. Loftis explained that
such topics are outside his mandate, which is limited to
status and access issues. Ivanov agreed to negotiate those
items within Amb. Loftis' mandate with the understanding that
discussions on the broader issues are necessary because "we
have to be politically able to explain the full range of
activities covered by our cooperation."
3. (C) After a long interlude necessitated by the Bulgarian
elections in June and a two-month delay in forming a new
ruling coalition, SOFA/DCA negotiations resumed October 6 and
7. Over the course of two days of detailed negotiations, the
delegations made substantial progress on language in the SOFA
and discussed generally the Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The Bulgarians largely agreed to the U.S. positions on
taxation and import/export. They also moved toward the U.S.
position on environmental protections and the status of
contractors. A number of challenges remain in the following
a. Criminal Jurisdiction: The GOB does not want to give the
impression that it is surrendering sovereignty. Ivanov said
that the standard U.S. language would be a "problem of
presentation" and would be difficult to explain to the
public, a majority of whom would oppose the perceived limits
on Bulgarian sovereignty. Specifically, the Bulgarians do
not want to grant an advance waiver of criminal jurisdiction,
which is a standard provision in our bilateral Supplemental
SOFAs with NATO allies. Instead, the Bulgarians proposed
language indicating that upon request by the U.S. military,
it would waive its primary right to exercise jurisdiction
except in cases of particular importance and that such a
request for waiver would be considered granted if the MOJ had
not notified the U.S. military of its granting of the request
or requested clarification in 30 days of receipt of the
waiver request.
b. Freedom of Movement: In their draft of the DCA, the
Bulgarians limited use of facilities to training and
exercises and military operations under the NATO umbrella and
required prior notification. For activities outside of the
NATO framework, the use of facilities would be subject to
prior authorization by the competent Bulgarian authorities.
Their draft also proposed a limit on the number of U.S.
personnel who could be "stationed" in Bulgaria. Amb. Loftis
explained that language addressing deployments was a critical
issue and stressed the need for maximum flexibility for any
U.S. forces in Bulgaria.
4. (C) In the days leading up to the U.S. delegation's
arrival, the Bulgarian media ran news reports claiming that
the U.S. wanted to establish large "military zones" around
the commercial port of Burgas that would severely limit
commercial shipping activity. This prompted three members of
Parliament from Burgas to send a letter of inquiry to the
MFA. In response to Amb Ivanov's request for clarification,
we assured him that the U.S. was only interested in
periodically shipping military cargo through Burgas'
commercial port and we had no plans to establish a naval base
5. (C) After the end of formal negotiations, Ambassador
Loftis and DCM Levine met privately with Ambassador Ivanov to
discuss the way forward. Amb. Loftis stressed again the
importance of freedom of movement and criminal jurisdiction
to the success of the negotiations. He also cautioned Amb.
Ivanov against continuing to cite old bilateral agreements
between the U.S. and other NATO countries, noting that they
were designed for situations in which the U.S. had stationed
large numbers of troops and were at any rate not well suited
to the current strategic situation. Amb. Ivanvov reiterated
that Bulgaria wants to conclude the agreements and improve
its cooperation with the U.S., but also that he is under
instructions to both protect Bulgaria's sovereignty and to
widen the cooperation with the U.S. as far as possible.
6. (C) On October 7, Amb. Loftis briefed a joint meeting of
senior members of Parliament's defense and foreign affairs
committees. Without getting into the details of the
negotiations, Amb. Loftis gave the parliamentarians a brief
description of the Global Defense Posture Realignment and how
it relates to Bulgaria, stressing that the U.S. is seeking
access to Bulgarian facilities and has no desire to establish
its own military bases in Bulgaria. The committee's
leadership asked about industrial cooperation, strategic
consultations, and financial arrangements. Amb. Loftis
responded that his mandate is to negotiate status and access
agreements, but the USG might be willing to separately
consider these and other questions outside the scope of the
two agreements. He said that the U.S. pays its own way but
does not pay rent for access to bases, and that freedom of
movement is a key U.S. consideration. The parliamentary
reaction was generally positive, but the leader of the
extreme nationalist Ataka party, Volen Siderov, took the
opportunity to grandstand, saying that the U.S. military
presence would expose Bulgaria to attack and calling for a
referendum on the proposed agreements.
7. (C) Press coverage of the Loftis visit was more negative
than expected. While the body of most articles was more or
less factually correct, headlines in the two largest dailies
focused on the fact that the U.S. would not pay for the use
of Bulgarian facilities and would not ask permission to
launch military strikes from Bulgarian territory (sic). Some
of our Bulgarian contacts have suggested that the Russian
embassy in Sofia may be encouraging Ataka and influencing
press coverage of the issue. The ground for such measures is
undeniably fertile; a tracking poll commissioned by the
Embassy in September showed that 61 percent of Bulgarians
oppose "U.S. bases" on their territory.
8. (C) COMMENT: With a new government having taken power
since the last negotiating session in May, the Bulgarian side
started these talks almost from zero. The talks, however,
proceeded in a businesslike manner and resulted in
substantial progress on many articles of the SOFA
Supplemental. Ivanov and others in the government have also
stressed their determination to reach agreement. Siderov's
outburst and the negative press spin highlight the need for
sustained public diplomacy on our part, and even more so on
the part of the Bulgarian government. We are working on a
public outreach plan (op-eds, interviews, visits to regions
where military bases to which we would like access are
located) to counter the disinformation, and will press the
government to develop its own public-education campaign as
well. In particular, it will be critical to dispel public
misperceptions, fueled at times by the government's own
comments, that the U.S. intends to establish large military
bases in Bulgaria. END COMMENT.
9. (U) This cable has been cleared by Ambassador Robert
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