Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.
Senior government officials in Sofia and Washington are continuing to underline that there are no negotiations between Bulgaria and the United States on participation in the US missile shield in Eastern Europe.
"We have not entered into any concrete talks with the US about whether there would be (part of the system) on our territory," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said on February 17 2010.
Media reports on February 12, based on remarks by US ambassador in Sofia James Warlick, said that Bulgaria could join Romania and other Eastern European countries in the new-style missile shield system being planned by US president Barack Obama’s administration.
The White House’s new plan is a reconceptualisation that replaces a Bush-era plan for a missile shield, which irked the Kremlin which saw it as directed against Russia.
Mladenov, who was Bulgaria’s Defence Minister before becoming Foreign Minister, said that there were discussions in Nato about how a shared missile defence system for all countries in the military alliance would look conceptually.
After reports of Warlick’s remarks, media quoted foreign minister Sergei Lavrov of speaking of a "Bulgarian surprise".
"We have already asked our American partners how we should understand this and why a Bulgarian surprise followed the Romanian surprise," Lavrov said on February 14. Earlier, Bucharest announced officially that it would take part in the missile shield.
EurActiv quoted unnamed Bulgarian diplomats as saying that to their knowledge, no decision to host the missile shield had yet been taken.
"The Americans have the habit of discussing issues first with the Bulgarian military, who usually agree on every suggestion. Then the US diplomats press the Bulgarian government authorities, saying: Your military commanders told us it is feasible," one diplomat, who asked not to be named, was quoted by EurActiv as saying.
"And then we have very little room for manoeuvre," he complained.
Mladenov said on February 17 that Russia’s response had been misinterpreted in Bulgaria.
"The fact is that there is dialogue between Nato and Russia to protect against potential new threats. Already there are countries that have access to medium-range missiles. These technologies can easily reach terrorist organisations," Mladenov said.
Washington has insisted, in a message echoed by Bulgarian former foreign minister Solomon Passi, that the missile shield is intended to protect against threats from the Middle East, and is in no way directed against Russia.
In an interview with Bulgarian-language mass-circulation daily Trud, published on February 17, Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raikov said that there had been no, and there should be no, official diplomatic reaction from Moscow after the reports that Bulgaria might participate in the missile shield.
Raikov said that Bulgaria took sovereign decisions and owed no explanations in choosing the means by which it guaranteed its national security.
"Our decisions in this area are taken in the context of the analysis that we make jointly with our Nato allies," Raikov was quoted as telling Trud.
Speaking to Bulgarian National Television on February 16, Warlick said that while there had been discussions in the context of Nato, there was no negotiations process.
Bulgarian daily Standart, quoting Russian news agencies Interfax and Itar-Tass, reported US deputy secretary of state for arms control and international security Ellen Tauscher as saying that Washington had not request Bulgaria's Government to allow the deployment of elements of the US missile defence shield system on Bulgarian territory.
"The possibility Bulgaria to join the anti-missile defence system in the future remains open," Tauscher was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Russian news agency RIA Novosti said on February 16 that members of the Russian parliament’s international affairs committee and the US house of representatives committee on foreign affairs would discuss reports of plans to host missiles in Bulgaria and Romania.
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian parliamentary committee, said in an interview with the Rossia24 TV channel that the issue had come up unexpectedly for Russia.
"This refers not only to Romania but probably also to Bulgaria and some other countries in the south of Europe," Kosachyov said, adding that the "most deplorable part" was that such plans did not fit into Obama’s stated intention to "reset" Russian-US relations.