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Cablegate: Bulgaria: Basing Prospects On Track Despite Public

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 002123




E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2015


Classified By: CDA Jeffrey Levine for reasons 1.4 (a) and (d).

1.(C) SUMMARY. The government of Bulgaria remains committed
to concluding a shared basing agreement with the U.S. despite
widespread public opposition. As previous Bulgarian
governments have done on issues such as Iraq and Kosovo, this
government is prepared to lead public opinion rather than
follow. The extreme nationalist Ataka party, with suspected
Russian advice and assistance, has negatively influenced
press coverage of the negotiations, but its calls for a
referendum have failed to gain traction. Given the relative
dearth of anti-American sentiment in Bulgaria, we believe the
best antidote to public skepticism is the rapid conclusion of
an agreement. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) According to recent U.S.-sponsored public opinion
data, 69 percent of Bulgarians disapprove of the U.S.
military using military bases in Bezmer and Novo Selo.
However, on December 8, two days after Secretary Rice signed
a basing agreement with Romania, the MFA's official
spokesman, Dimitar Tsanchev, issued the following

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"Negotiations on the deployment of joint Bulgarian-U.S.
military installations continue, and at this stage there are
no serious problems hindering the talks. An agreement is
expected to be reached in the near future taking into
consideration the countries' common interests."

On December 27, an MFA official privately confirmed that we
are "very close to an agreement on the Status of Forces

3. (C) The willingness of Bulgaria's political leadership to
move ahead in the face of public opposition is a phenomenon
we have observed before. In 1999, there was widespread and
vocal public opposition to the Kostov government's decision
to grant blanket overflight clearance to U.S. aircraft
engaged in military operations against neighboring
Yugoslavia. In 2003, Parliament approved the deployment of
an infantry battalion to Iraq despite polls showing that only
eight percent of Bulgarians fully supported participation.
Even more telling was the GOB's determination to continue its
participation in the coalition for two years despite
suffering 13 killed and 80 wounded. The Socialist-led
government elected last summer continues to buck public
opinion, first by reneging on its pledge to immediately
withdraw the infantry battalion from Iraq and then by
all-but-officially accepting the follow-on mission favored by
the U.S. military. We expect a formal decision on the Iraq
follow-on mission as soon as CENTCOM and the Bulgarian
military agree on the technical terms of reference.

4. (C) The extreme nationalist party Ataka is a leading
critic of the basing negotiations (reftel). Although Ataka
has not had a significant impact to date, its hard-line
stance puts pressure on the Bulgarian Socialist Party, whose
core electorate shares many of the same views on foreign
policy. Ataka's calls for a national referendum on the
basing agreements have failed to gain traction, and it
remains on the fringes of the political scene. However,
there are indications that the Russian embassy in Sofia may
be supporting Ataka and encouraging negative press coverage
of the basing issue. The Russian CHOD also received
substantial local press coverage in early December when he
raised the prospect of U.S. missile defenses in Bulgaria
(sic) and said, "God forbid if downed foreign missiles fell
on the Kozloduy nuclear power plant" in Bulgaria. Baluevski
also reportedly said he was "astounded" that the U.S. was not
going to pay rent for the use of Bulgarian bases since this
was "the normal practice around the world."

5. (C) COMMENT: While the GOB has a track record of taking
controversial foreign policy decisions in the face of public
opposition, the negative poll numbers highlight the need for
a sustained public diplomacy effort on our part. In
November, during the last bilateral negotiating session, we
arranged television and print interviews with the lead U.S.
negotiator, Ambassador Robert Loftis. Perhaps more
importantly, we successfully urged a number of Bulgarian
opinion leaders from the Left side of the political spectrum
-- where opposition is most concentrated -- to speak out in
support of the basing agreements. Our Public Affairs section
has commissioned a reputable polling agency to conduct focus
groups to pinpoint Bulgarians' specific concerns. And in an
effort to reach a wider audience, we are facilitating a visit
by a Bulgarian television crew to a U.S. military base in
Western Europe to show the Bulgarian public what a U.S.
military presence looks like and how the local population
interacts with American service members. Our most effective
means of countering Ataka and its sponsors, however, will be
the presence of U.S. boots on the ground in Bulgaria. Given
the absence of strong underlying anti-American sentiment, we
believe public attitudes will change once the agreements are
signed and our troops begin deploying here.


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