US President Barack Obama has praised Bulgaria with few, but strong words of encouragement to counterpart Rosen Plevneliev at the NATO summit in Chicago.
“You are doing great, the latest data I received is spectacular and I wish you success. This is what US President Barack Obama told me at the NATO summit in Chicago,” President Rosen Plevneliev told Bulgarian journalists after attending the high-level talks of the Alliance.
Plevneliev made it clear it is not realistic to expect that the US will lift the visa regime for Bulgaria in the short term as the country first must meet a number of technical requirements.
One of the criteria is for the percentage of refused visas for Bulgarian citizens – a threshold for the country to request lifting the visa regime if refusals would fall below it.
Bulgaria was still far from being included in the US Visa Waiver Program as the number of visa refusals to Bulgarian citizens need to be way below 10% of the total number of applications, as they are now, Plevneliev pointed out.
He assured however that Bulgarian authorities raise the visa regime issue “whenever they can” and expressed hopes that it will soon be solved “given that Bulgaria and the US are strategic allies.”
The president denied reports that the country has been asked to replace French troops in Afghanistan after France’s newly elected President Francois Hollande vowed he would carry out his pledge to withdraw combat forces by year’s end, two years earlier than the US ally once planned.
Bulgaria has deployed so far 620 troops in Afghanistan guarding the airports in Kabul and Kandahar, and a medical unit in the Herat province.
Bulgaria’s army phased withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be completed before the end of 2014, when some 150 troops are scheduled to remain stationed there.
At the beginning of the year and his term Bulgarian new President Rosen Plevneliev unexpectedly arrived on a surprise visit to Afghanistan on February 29.
Plevneliev’s trip to Afghanistan was his second official state visit abroad after his inauguration on January 22, 2012, when he replaced two-term Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. Plevneliev’s first foreign visit was to Brussels.
The Bulgarian President was received immediately by the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai.
According to the Bulgarian Presidency, Plevneliev has expressed Bulgaria’s desire to build a hospital in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, and the Afghan authorities have promised to provide the land.
Cooperation between Bulgaria and Afghanistan on illegal drug trafficking, and illegal immigration, as well as the work of the Bulgarian military mission in Afghanistan with the NATO-led ISAF operation have also been topics on Plevneliev and Karzai’s agenda.