Bulgarian Parliament to vote on January 16 on talks with US on F-16 acquisition

Bulgaria’s National Assembly will vote on January 16 on Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s Cabinet’s proposal to negotiate with the United States on the acquisition of F-16s, according to Emil Hristov, a Deputy Speaker of Parliament from Borissov’s GERB party.

Hristov, speaking in a television interview on January 13, said that at this stage, the vote was on whether to allow the negotiations.

The parameters agreed in such negotiations would again have to be put to Parliament for approval, he said.

Hristov dismissed criticisms levelled at the proposal by President Roumen Radev and by Kornelia Ninova, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, saying that so far everything had followed the approved procedures.

Responding directly to Radev, who had described the recommendation of the F-16 option as a “triumph of lobbyism”, Hristov said that allegations of lobbyism have to be proved.

Following the GERB party line of backing the F-16s, Hristov said that the US offer was significantly better than that of Sweden’s Gripen bid.

“The F-16 is multipurpose, while Gripen offers a platform and says: you make it multipurpose, which requires extra equipment from the US,” he said.

In a separate television interview on January 13, the head of Parliament’s defence committee, GERB’s Konstantin Popov, said that each of the proposed aircraft had its positive features.

Popov said that the F-16 is a “wonderful” aricraft, but in making the choice, what matters is the intergration into the structures of Nato and ensuring the development and modernisation of the Bulgarian military, in particular the Air Force.

“Gripen is also a great machine, but we are talking about being part of an alliance, and with the United States we have a strategic partnership and an ally that you can count on,” Popov said.

He said that he could not understand the criticisms levelled by the BSP, Volya minority party leader Vesselin Mareshki, United Patriots parliamentary leader Volen Siderov and President Radev.

“We should go back to restarting the procedure, have the (European Parliament elections, start negotiations again?” Popov said, though he said he would not specifically comment on the statements of the head of state.

Popov was declining to comment on the statements of Radev even though they had known each other for a long time. This was a reference to the fact that both had had Air Force careers. Popov, formerly Air Force commander and later chief of staff of the armed forces, resigned when Radev became commander-in-chief; Popov always had outranked Radev. Radev becoming head of state meant that for the first time, Radev outranked Popov.

Popov said that the recommendation by the military-political committee and by the government provided a framework within which the government could negotiate.

The offers submitted so far lacked costs of maintenance and this would be the subject of negotiations.

Among the five groups in Bulgaria’s current National Assembly, GERB is in favour of the proposal to hold talks with the US on F-16s. The BSP is opposed. The minority partner in the governing coalition, the nationalist United Patriots, is divided. Volya is opposed.

On January 13, Hamid Hamid, of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said that the party would decide its stance on the vote at a meeting of its parliamentary group on January 15.



The Sofia Globe staff

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