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Bulgaria Backs  US Position on Iraq - 2003-02-27

Bulgaria's foreign minister, Solomon Passy Wednesday says he favors the United States shifting some of its NATO troops from Germany, east to Bulgaria, which hopes to join the western defense alliance next year.

Mr. Passy told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington that while Bulgaria hasn't been asked to accept a permanent U.S. force, such a move seems like a good idea.

"We haven't received a formal proposal. And we haven't discussed such a question," he said. "But moving bases from one place to another in Europe, bearing in mind the changes of the threats, is really something logical."

Mr. Passy spoke in favor of the U.S. position in demanding the disarmament of Iraq and outlined measures Bulgaria has taken to support a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq.

"We offer an air corridor, a three hour flight [to Iraq]," he explained. "We offer an air force base in Bourgas as we did during enduring freedom operation [in Afghanistan]. And we shall send a unit of 150 troops of anti-nuclear, chemical and biological protection [to the Gulf].

Bulgaria's defense minister, speaking at the same forum, said Sofia places equal priority on joining NATO and the European Union. Earlier this month Bulgaria infuriated French President Jacques Chirac when it joined nine other former communist nations in endorsing the tough Iraq stance of the United States and Britain, instead of the softer French and German position.

Mr. Chirac has berated the Bulgarians and Romanians, saying their action has jeopardized their chances of joining the EU. Mr. Passy is unapologetic about the dispute and turned aside questions by emphasizing the strong historic ties between France and Bulgaria.