Trump and Bulgarian leader discuss energy, NATO

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Monday discussed energy issues facing the central European nation, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.

In a joint statement, the U.S. said it welcomes Bulgaria’s aspirations to become a regional natural gas hub. Bulgaria, Moscow’s closest ally during the Cold War, later joined NATO and the European Union but remains reliant on Russia to power the nation.

The two leaders pledged to cooperate to increase the supply of natural gas from diverse and reliable sources and diversify Bulgaria’s nuclear energy sector. The Trump administration intends to send technical experts to the country to work with their Bulgarian counterparts to find ways to further cooperate on energy projects, including nuclear.

Trump’s meeting with the Bulgarian leader is the latest in a series of engagements the president has had this year with leaders from Central Europe nations, most situated on the eastern flank of NATO. Trump has met with his counterparts from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Romania.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the visit said the U.S. is interested in exporting liquefied natural gas to Bulgaria and other countries in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity according to White House rules set for the briefing.

During their Oval Office meeting, Trump noted Bulgaria’s recent purchase of U.S. F-16 fighter jets and praised the country’s decision to increase defense spending and work with other NATO allies to reach targeted defense spending goals by 2024.

The president also said the U.S. supports Bulgaria’s aspiration to join the visa waiver program. The program allows pre-approved travelers from participating countries to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a non-immigrant visitor visa.