US: “You placed the Western Balkans on the international agenda”
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Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva conferred with acting Assistant US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth I. Millard and with Foreign Ministers Eduard Nalbandian of Armenia and Gibran Bassil of Lebanon.

The talks took place in New York, on the sidelines of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly.

“You placed the Western Balkans on the international agenda. Our message is that this region should not be forgotten and the leaders of the countries in it should be encouraged to take up harrowing reforms such as the fight against corruption,” acting Assistant US Secretary of State Elisabeth I. Millard said, addressing her guest. “The European perspective will inspire those countries to carry out the necessary reforms.”

Minister Zaharieva presented the foreign policy priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, the most important of which is to give the Western Balkans a European perspective. “We believe that Bulgaria cannot possibly be a stable and rich country if its neighbours are not stable and rich,” the chief Bulgarian diplomat emphasised. She expressed satisfaction that the Bulgarian voice had been heard and that the Balkans had become one of the five priorities of the European diplomatic service, as well as that the region figured prominently in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union Address.

Zaharieva briefed Assistant Secretary Millard on her tour of the Western Balkans and on Bulgaria’s efforts for an improvement of connectivity in the region, which will have a favourable impact on the investment climate, will increase travel and the closeness between the various peoples.

Zaharieva and Millard discussed the energy diversification steps that Bulgaria is taking, the anti-corruption legislation and the protection of the EU common border by Bulgaria. A number of issues on the international agenda were discussed at the meeting, including the two countries’ positions on all current global issues.

“We appreciate the important role of your Presidency,” Millard emphasised.

The acting Assistant US Secretary of State thanked for the assistance that Bulgaria provides to the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan and shared her wonderful impressions of the City of Sofia. She visited the Bulgarian capital as part of the delegation accompanying Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015.

Conferring with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia Eduard Nalbandian, the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister stressed the trade and tourism potential that the two friendly countries should develop, as well as the long-standing cultural and historic ties between the Bulgarian and the Armenian people. In 2016 two-way trade was valued at USD 20 million. Of these, Bulgarian exports amounted to USD 19.7 million: mainly medicines, cosmetic articles, furniture and packaging. Young Armenians show growing interest in studying at Bulgarian universities, and the nearly 11,000 Bulgarian citizens of Armenian descent are the real bridge between the two countries.

Zaharieva stressed to Nalbandian that the Eastern Partnership is among the priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. She asserted her country’s categorical position that the frozen conflicts in the region must be settled by peaceful and diplomatic means.

Countering terrorism, halting violence in the Middle East, the situation in Syria and the refugee crisis topped the agenda of the talks between Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva and Gibran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of the Lebanese Republic.

Zaharieva singled out the positive example of Lebanon, where various ethnic and religious communities coexist peacefully. “Christians play a leading role in our country and whenever their role has been underrated, this has led to destabilisation,” Minister Bassil said. Zaharieva welcomed the Lebanese Government’s efforts to cope with the refugee situation in the country and the strategic choice of increasing closeness with the EU.

In 2016, trade between Bulgaria and Lebanon grew by nearly 44 percent compared to 2015 (from USD 118 million to USD 185 million). For more than half a century now, Bulgaria and Lebanon have enjoyed traditionally friendly relations. During the Lebanese

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