Ambassador Lyubomir Ivanov, Bulgaria's chief negotiator, and U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle told reporters the new agreement will go for a last review by both governments. The deal is expected to be signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits Bulgaria during an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the end of April.
Trying to disperse public fears among Bulgarians that the bases could be used as a springboard for American troops to be sent to missions in crisis regions, Ivanov said that under the deal his country's position "will be taken into account in all circumstances." "On serious political issues linked to broader actions or possible operations ... the two sides will consult through the usual diplomatic channels," Ivanov said. Beyrle said the Bulgarians will be kept informed on U.S. military activities in their country.
"Nothing is going to happen on Bulgarian soil with respect to American forces that the Bulgarian officials are not aware of," Beyrle said.
Bulgaria borders Turkey and Greece.
The agreement, which covers a 10-year period, needs to be approved by Bulgaria's Parliament. Under the deal, U.S. troops will be able to use three Bulgarian military bases - the Novo Selo training area and the Bezmer air base in southeastern Bulgaria, as well as at the Graf Ignatievo airfield in central Bulgaria. The troops also will be granted access to a depot near Aitos and close to the Black Sea port of Burgas.
"A brigade-size force of some 2,000-3,000 U.S. troops will be deployed at the facilities on rotational basis. Their number could be increased to as many as 5,000 in brief periods of time," Beyrle said.
American officials want to deploy troops on rotational training tours as part of a broader U.S. strategy of shifting troops based in Europe further east. Washington is interested in small, flexible bases, different from those set up to house large numbers of troops during the Cold War.
Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.8 million people, joined NATO in 2004 and hopes to join the European Union next year. Bulgarian officials have said the agreement would help improve Bulgaria's armed forces, boost its economy and enhance security. Beyrle said the United States expected to invest tens of millions of dollars in upgrading the infrastructure of the facilities.
"The bases will remain Bulgarian property," Ivanov said, adding that Bulgarian officers would be in command of the bases, while U.S. commanders would be in charge of the troops located at the facility.