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Cablegate: Nurses Return, Bulgaria Rejoices

VZCZCXRO0913
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHSF #0883/01 2051305
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 241305Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC
INFO RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000883

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/24/2017
TAGS: PREL PHUM LY BU
SUBJECT: NURSES RETURN, BULGARIA REJOICES

SOFIA 00000883 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: POL-ECON COUNSELOR BRAD FREDEN, REASONS 1.4(B) AND (D).

1. (C) SUMMARY. BULGARIA GAVE AN EMOTIONAL WELCOME-HOME TO THE FIVE MEDICAL WORKERS RELEASED FROM A LIBYAN PRISON EARLY THIS MORNING AND FLOWN BACK TO SOFIA ON A FRENCH JET. AMBASSADOR BEYRLE JOINED PRESIDENT PARVANOV, PRIME MINISTER STANISHEV AND SEVERAL EUROPEAN AMBASSADORS FOR AN IMPROMPTU AIRPORT ARRIVAL CEREMONY, WHILE BULGARIANS ACROSS THE COUNTRY WATCHED ON LIVE TELEVISION THE IMAGES OF THE NURSES EMBRACING THEIR FAMILIES ON THE TARMAC. FOREIGN MINISTER KALFIN ANNOUNCED THAT PARVANOV HAD PARDONED THE NURSES, THEREBY REMOVING ANY POSSIBILITY THAT THEY WOULD BE SUBJECT TO IMPRISONMENT IN BULGARIA. PARVANOV, STANISHEV AND KALFIN EACH MADE A POINT OF EXPRESSING TO THE AMBASSADOR THEIR DEEP APPRECIATION FOR THE ROLE PLAYED BY THE UNITED STATES IN SECURING THE RELEASE OF THEIR LONG-SUFFERING COMPATRIOTS. PARVANOV WILL ATTEMPT TO CALL PRESIDENT BUSH LATER TODAY TO THANK HIM PERSONALLY, AND KALFIN WILL DO THE SAME WITH THE SECRETARY. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) IN A SCENE REMINISCENT OF THE RETURN OF U.S. POWS FROM VIETNAM OR THE AMERICAN HOSTAGES FROM TEHRAN, BULGARIANS WATCHED AS THE FIVE NURSES TEARFULLY EMBRACED THEIR LOVED ONES. ONE OF THE NURSES MET HER SEVEN YEAR-OLD GRANDSON FOR THE FIRST TIME. IT WAS, ACCORDING TO BULGARIAN NATIONAL TELEVISION, "AN UNPRECEDENTED WELCOMING CEREMONY" AND "A HISTORIC MOMENT FOR BULGARIA."

3. (U) DURING THEIR EIGHT YEARS IN PRISON, THE FIVE NURSES AND PALESTINIAN DOCTOR -- ARRESTED AS SCAPEGOATS FOLLOWING AN AIDS OUTBREAK IN BENGHAZI -- WERE REPEATEDLY TORTURED AND TWICE SENTENCED TO DEATH. THEY ENDURED DISAPPOINTMENTS OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS AS THE EU AND THE U.S. APPEARED CLOSE TO REACHING AN AGREEMENT WITH LIBYA, ONLY TO SEE THOSE PROSPECTS THEN RECEDE. THE NURSES' RETURN TODAY WAS IN DOUBT RIGHT UP TO THE LAST MINUTE, WITH ONE OF THE NURSES QUOTED AS SAYING SHE WAS SURPRISED TO BE AWAKENED AT 4 A.M. THIS MORNING AND TOLD TO PACK HER BAGS.

4. (C) AMBASSADOR MARC PIERINI, THE HEAD OF THE BENGHAZI INTERNATIONAL FUND, TOLD THE AMBASSADOR THAT THE LAST 48 HOURS IN TRIPOLI HAD BEEN "PRETTY SORDID," WITH THE LIBYANS THROWING UP ROADBLOCKS AND DEMANDING FURTHER CONCESSIONS FROM BRUSSELS RIGHT UP UNTIL THE NURSES BOARDED CECILIA SARKOZY'S OFFICIAL AIRCRAFT. IN THE END, PIERINI SAID, IT APPEARS THAT THE EMIR OF QATAR MAY HAVE KICKED IN SOME MONEY TO CLOSE THE DEAL.

5. (SBU) IN THEIR PUBLIC STATEMENTS, BULGARIAN OFFICIALS WERE EFFUSIVE IN THEIR PRAISE FOR THE ROLES PLAYED BY THE EU GENERALLY AND THE FRENCH SPECIFICALLY. IN HIS DECREE PARDONING THE NURSES, READ BY FOREIGN MINISTER KALFIN TO THE ASSEMBLED NEWS MEDIA SOME 20 MINUTES AFTER THE NURSES TOUCHED DOWN, PARVANOV SAID HE WAS CONVINCED OF THE NURSES' INNOCENCE. THE PARDON REMOVES ANY POSSIBILITY THAT THE NURSES WOULD BE SUBJECT TO IMPRISONMENT UNDER THE TERMS OF THE BILATERAL PRISONER-EXCHANGE AGREEMENT THAT BROUGHT THEM HOME. PARVANOV ALSO POINTEDLY ACKNOWLEDGED THE PLIGHT OF THE HIV-INFECTED CHILDREN IN BENGHAZI. THE PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER AND FOREIGN MINISTER EXPRESSED THEIR SINCERE THANKS FOR THE ROLE PLAYED BY THE U.S. POST IS COORDINATING WITH WASHINGTON PRESIDENT PARVANOV'S CALL TO PRESIDENT BUSH AND FM KALFIN'S CALL TO THE SECRETARY.

6. (U) FOLLOWING THE NURSES' ARRIVAL IN SOFIA, THE EMBASSY ISSUED THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT:

"WE SHARE THE JOY AND RELIEF OF THE BULGARIAN PEOPLE AT THE RELEASE OF THE NURSES. THE PAST EIGHT YEARS HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT, AND WE ARE PLEASED THIS ORDEAL HAS COME TO AN END. AS PRESIDENT BUSH EXPLAINED DURING HIS VISIT TO SOFIA LAST MONTH, THE RELEASE OF THE NURSES HAS BEEN A HIGH PRIORITY FOR OUR COUNTRY, AND WE HAVE WORKED HARD WITH OUR EUROPEAN FRIENDS AND THE BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO SEE THEM RETURN HOME TO THEIR FAMILIES. IN ADDITION, WE CONTINUE OUR EFFORTS TO EASE THE SUFFERING OF THE OTHER INNOCENT VICTIMS IN THIS CASE -- THE LIBYAN CHILDREN INFECTED WITH HIV."

7. (C) COMMENT. THE RETURN OF THE NURSES IS AN ENORMOUS MILESTONE FOR BULGARIA. AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF FRUSTRATING IMPOTENCE, THE RETURN OF THESE FIVE MEDICAL WORKERS VALIDATES IN THE MINDS OF MANY ORDINARY BULGARIANS THE BENEFITS OF THE COUNTRY'S MEMBERSHIP IN THE EU AS WELL AS ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH THE U.S. BULGARIANS RECOGNIZE THAT IT WAS THE COMBINATION OF BRUSSELS' BLANDISHMENTS AND WASHINGTON'S UNWAVERING PRESSURE -- SYMBOLIZED BY PRESIDENT BUSH'S STATEMENT OF SUPPORT IN SOFIA LAST MONTH -- THAT BROUGHT THIS SAGA TO A SUCCESSFUL END. ONCE THE EUPHORIA WEARS OFF WE EXPECT THE DOMESTIC RECRIMINATIONS TO BEGIN, BUT FOR NOW BULGARIANS ARE UNITED IN HEARTFELT RELIEF AT THE RETURN OF THEIR COMPATRIOTS. FOR OUR PART, WE AND THE EUROPEANS SHOULD BE JUSTLY PROUD OF OUR SUCCESSFUL JOINT EFFORT TO RESOLVE THIS CASE.
BEYRLE

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