Bulgaria renews ties with Arab world
Bulgaria took a first step towards improving links with the Arab world this weekend as Jordan's King Abdullah II wrapped up an official visit. The Jordanian monarch's visit was the first by an Arab head of state since the fall of communism in Bulgaria in 1989, when the country still enjoyed strong ties with the Arab countries.
"The visit by Abdullah II will give a strong boost to the development of bilateral ties and the development of Bulgaria's relations with the rest of the Arab world," President Petar Stoyanov said on Saturday, August 25.
Abdullah said he too favored strengthening ties between Jordan and Bulgaria. During the 24-hour visit, Abdullah and Stoyanov signed three agreements pledging bilateral cooperation on health; air links; and education, science and culture.
Abdullah also met Bulgaria's former monarch and current prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, who speaks Arabic and has close ties with the Jordanian and Moroccan royal families.
Saxe-Coburg went to school with Abdullah's father, the late King Hussein, and Hassan II, the late king of Morocco, after being expelled from his country in 1946 when Bulgarians scrapped the monarchy to become a republic.
In 1991, the post-communist government cut all ties with the region, saying it refused to have contacts with "terrorist regimes". "After a period of stagnation that has lasted close to 10 years, we hope to see bilateral relations renewed. Jordan could become a gateway for Bulgaria to the Arab world," said Hassan Al-Barmawi, president of the Bulgarian-Jordan Chamber of Economic Cooperation.
During the communist era, Bulgaria had strong ties with the Arab countries, selling them arms and buying their oil. Libya, Iran and Iraq were Sofia's top three economic partners in the developing world. In those days trade with the region was worth over two billion dollars (€2.19 billion) a year.
Last year that trade amounted to only $160 million, according to the Bulgarian Institute of Statistics. Bulgaria's trade with Jordan was worth $17 million in 2000, compared to $44 million 10 years ago.
Bulgaria's poor links with the Arab world came into the national spotlight in February 1991, when Libya began legal proceedings against six Bulgarians accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with the HIV virus. The six could face the death penalty if found guilty. "Nobody in Bulgaria believes that the Bulgarian doctor and nurses could be capable of the horrible crime they are accused of," Stoyanov said Saturday.
Senior Bulgarian ministers have made several visits to Arab countries in recent months. Stoyanov traveled to Syria and Libya in March, where he signed a dozen accords pledging economic and security cooperation.
The prime minister and foreign minister of the former conservative government both visited Egypt last year and Stoyanov went to Damascus in June 2000 after the death of Syria's President Hafiz Al-Assad. After leaving Bulgaria, Abdullah was scheduled to travel to Russia for a three-day visit. ― (AFP, Sofia)
By Lilia Dimitrova
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)