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Statement at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly

24/09/2011 Leave a comment

66th UN General Assembly Debate

Let me begin by praising His Excellency Nassir Abdelaziz AL-NASSER for the steady stewardship as the President of the 66th session of the General Assembly. In your work, Your Excellency, you can count on the constructive engagement of the Bulgarian delegation. But allow me also to personally praise you for the theme which you have selected for this session.

I take this opportunity to also pay tribute to your predecessor, His Excellency Joseph DEISS, for his outstanding leadership of the previous session’s busy agenda.

Last, but not least, let me congratulate the Secretary General Ban KI-MOON for his re-election at the helm of the United Nations.

Mr. Secretary General, you have proven yourself as a diligent, hard-working leader who believes strongly in consensus and harmony – qualities that the UN needs now in its top administrator and will undoubtedly need even more in the years to come.

Let me begin by welcoming the work of our delegations in UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are now responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined. Bulgaria welcomes the negotiated final document. Over 80% of cardiovascular and diabetes deaths, almost 90% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more than 2/3 of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

To quote the UN Secretary General’s Report to the GA: “Knowing how to reduce such diseases is not the problem; the problem is lack of action.” Focusing on this “new frontier” now is an important challenge that can be addressed only if we all work together.

Bulgaria also particularly welcomes the High Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security. The effects of nuclear accidents have no respect for national borders. To adequately safeguard our people, we must have firm international consensus and action, as well as agree on stringent international safety standards. As many other IAEA member states Bulgaria considers nuclear power as a viable option to meet our energy needs. Nuclear energy has a key role for providing base load power to our economy with a share of 35% of the total energy mix.

Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism.

Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar.

  • Corrupt leadership breeds dissent and with no democratic process in place, this dissent pours out onto the streets;
  • Young people want to be engaged in the future of their countries, not forced into a world of virtual reality and frowned upon by aging dictators;
  • Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.

Add to that the feeling of revival, the demand of millions of young Arabs to be respected not to be denied the opportunities that others have, not to be talked down or discriminated and you have the makings of a revolution of Arab dignity and self respect, a historic revolution indeed.

Human dignity is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I quote: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

As change swept across the Middle East and North Africa, some leaders cringed in fear, others embraced it. Those who opposed their people are no longer in positions of power; their countries are moving on and looking to democratic elections. Those who embraced change have initiated far-reaching reforms and responded to the legitimate demands of their people. His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan and His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco need to be commended for their vision and willingness to reform. They are showing the way forward.

At the same time the international community has been appalled by the developments in Syria. Instead of responding to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people by fulfilling promised reforms, the government cracked down violently  on protesters. They did not have unrealistic demands; they did not ask for anything out of the ordinary. According to the UN over 2600 people have been killed since March. The government in Damascus questions these numbers. Even if only one person had been killed, it would been one person too many. The responsibility for the repression lies squarely with the authorities and no one else.

I use this opportunity to call on President Assad — who has made many promises to his people and the international community — to come out from the shadows, change the constitution, dismantle the machinery of repression, and immediately call internationally supervised elections. The people of Syria have the right to elect their own government and hold it accountable. The time for transition has come.

Ladies and gentlemen,

at this session we welcomed the hundred-and-ninety-third member of the United Nations. Our hearts go out to the people of South Sudan who have struggled for independence and we commend the visionary leadership of their new government for paving the way for their independence in a peaceful manner.

We also welcomed the new representatives of Libya, free from the oppression of the Gaddafi dictatorship. It was at the gates of Beghazi in February that he international community, acting on a mandate of the UN Secuirty Council, acted swiftly to prevent a massacre and protect civilians against attacks from their own government. The people of Libya proved that they can stand up and defend their right to freedom. Our thoughts go out to the families of all who lost their lives in this struggle, who fell victim to the crazed ambitions of a deluded dictator.

Bulgaria stands ready to assist the people of Libya in rebuilding their country. Our friendship is strong and has been tested through the years. We know first hand of the brutality that Gaddafi was capable of. The five Bulgarian nurses and a doctor who spent eight years of their lives in a Libyan jail, much of it on death row, are still haunted by their tortures. “We died every time the cell door opened” said one of them in an interview recently. Now safely back home they need to be able to close the chapter of their nightmares. Like the nurses — innocent victims of a brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people do not want to see revenge, but justice. Such justice will be sought when the dictator and his cronies are brought before a court of law.

Ladies and gentleman,

No matter how successful we individually are, we cannot truly bear the fruits of our own development if we live in an insecure environment. Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are vital for the wellbeing of our countries and our societies. With this introduction let me turn even closer to home — the Balkans. Allow me to use this opportunity to reiterate Bulgaria’s unfaltering commitment to the European future of the Western Balkans. So I will not tire to repeat exactly the same thing I said last year from this podium:

The European Union was created to make war impossible in a continent that has seen at least a century of conflicts. Europe shall not be whole and complete until our neighbours in the Balkans are not part of our Union.

It falls on us – those who joined the EU late, not by their own choice, but because of the ideological divisions of the Cold War – to say it loud and clear: to make war impossible in the Balkans we must see all countries that have emerged from former Yugoslavia be part of the European Union. This is our historic mission. Its our destiny.

This is why we will continue to work tirelessly to remove the obstacles to EU enlargement in the Balkans, to strengthen regional cooperation and develop good neighbourly relations in a region that has seen too much division. With particular vigor we will continue to encourage the EU facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Bulgaria welcomes the pragmatic approach taken by both Kosovo and Serbia during their first meetings. It is important that they build on this momentum and continue to engage in a constructive and pragmatic manner. All must show restraint and prevent the build-up of tension. This is vital for the security, prosperity and – ultimately, for the European perspective of the region.

Bulgaria will continue to contribute actively to regional reconciliation. Because we believe that our role in South East Europe and beyond is to bring people together, not divide them; to seek solutions, not watch from the sidelines.

We must constantly reaffirm our European commitment to bring in our neighbours in the Western Balkans into Europe, when they meet the criteria for membership. Our neighbours also must reaffirm their own commitment to undertaking often very difficult reforms, and to strengthening regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Bulgaria is a country that has had a proud but turbulent history. Our history teaches us that nations are strong when their civic spirit is strong. It teaches us that you must find pride not only in great historic battles and ancient legends, but in great feats of civic activism, in the standing up for your values and protecting your neighbors. One such inspiring example is that fact that the Jews of Bulgaria survived World War II because hundreds of religious and community leaders, politicians, ordinary men and women stood up and refused to be part of Hitler’s madness.

I stand tall and proud of the spirit of my predecessors. Their example of tolerance inspires much more than the Medieval stories of greatness and empires that we have so many of in Europe.

Two days ago we celebrated our national independence day. After 500 years of foreign occupation and domination in 1878 Bulgaria reemerged on the map of Europe. Our full independence however came only in 1908, some 30 years after the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state.

My country today is the product of the traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims who all form the fabric of the Bulgarian nation. This is our richness, this makes us quite unique in the Balkans. This is why we cannot remain uninterested in developments in the Middle East, particularly to the elusive prospects of peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.

Over the course of the last year we have seen the tireless efforts of the US administration and the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy to find a way to resume direct negotiations. These efforts, including the agreed Quartet statement of today, need to be applauded, encouraged and supported by all.

It was in the United Nations in 1947 that the State of Israel was born. It was born as a home for the Jewish people, a beacon of hope to a community that has been persecuted and oppressed for thousands of years; becoming the only truly democratic country in the region.

Today this landscape is changing. Slowly but surely the region is moving towards democracy. Democracy, accountable government and the rule of law are ultimately in the long term interest of all — Jews and Muslims; Arabs and Israelis.

The Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own. Indeed we — the international community — have an obligation to support the establishment of a viable and democratic, Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestine that lives side-by-side with the State of Israel;

a Palestine that lives in security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel;

a Palestine that has secure borders, based on 1967 with mutually agreed swaps.

Both Palestine, as the home of the Palestinian people, and Israel, the home of the Jewish people, must guarantee that all ethnic and religious groups have full rights and protection under law.

But let me also make one point very clear — to refuse the right of Israel to exist means to refuse the right of the Palestinian people to also have a state of their own. I can accept criticism of the policies of any government, but I cannot stand idle when the right of existence is denied to anyone — no matter their religion or ethnicity. To dismiss such policies in passing, would mean to fail the values of our civilization.

Bulgaria will never accept that and nor should any other nation in the global community.

Bulgaria believes very strongly that the definitive solution to peace can only come through direct negotiations. But direct negotiations can resume only on the basis of trust and a real understanding of the security concerns and the legitimate aspirations of both sides. Rebuilding trust between both parties is a prerequisite to resuming negotiations. Unilateral action, changing the realities on the ground cannot be a substitute for negotiations. Obstacles should be overcome and preconditions should be removed. If the leaders of Palestine believe that settlement policy is an obstacle to peace, the leaders of Israel must refrain from such activities. To give peace a chance. If the leaders of Israel believe that no preconditions to a final settlement should be put in place, then the Palestinian leaders must refrain from such actions. To give peace a chance.

Bulgaria has recognised the Palestinian state in 1988. We hold our friendship both with Israel and the Palestinian people dear. This is why we urge the immediate resumption of negotiations as the only road to peace. Bringing both sides back to the negotiating table remains out top priority. I am sure that the United States, working in concert with the European Union, can facilitate this process, based on a vision outlined by President Obama.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges of peace in the Middle East today are challenges of leadership.

Allow me now to turn to my delegation’s vision for the kind of leadership, the kind of United Nations we need for the the next decade. Our organization, in its reform, must be adequate and accountable, brave and bold in its actions, credible and compassionate.

An organization created by 51 member states functions today with 193 members. In order for the UN to be adequate today its institutions need to be reformed, first and foremost, in the composition of the UN’s main body guaranteeing international peace and security. We must build on progress achieved so far within the negotiations on the Security Council reform and move the process to a more result oriented phase. Bulgaria considers enlargement of the Council in its two categories — permanent and non-permanent members as one of the options that enjoys the support of a considerable number of delegations. The increase in the number of non-permanent seats should provide for a just representation of the Eastern European Group, whose membership has more than doubled over the last two decades.

Transparency is impossible without accountability. First, the UN must be accountable to its member states through a continued strive to improve management and the enforcement of strict budgetary discipline, especially in the current period of economic turmoil.

We, the member states, ought to be accountable to the UN by fulfilling all our commitments, including by paying our financial contributions to the organization fully, unconditionally and in time – a principle that Bulgaria upholds and adheres to: by June 2011 my country has paid all its due contributions for 2011 to the regular budget, the Capital Master Plan, the tribunals and the 2010-2011 peacekeeping missions’ financial period.

We all need to be accountable for our actions to future generations. It is easy to speak of “sustainable development”, but at the moment we are not even remotely close to making it a reality. On the contrary: the damage we have done to the planet’s geology, climate and ecosystems for most of the last century is so significant that scientists are increasingly asserting that the human race has actually managed to push the Earth, way faster than usual, into a new, eventually more unstable and dangerous geological period.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need both wise and courageous leadership from the UN in our efforts to guarantee peace and security. Wise so as to avoid the temptation to use force when it seems to get results faster than mediation and protracted negotiations. Courageous to take responsibility when the use of force is a must.

In this context, I would like to acknowledge the initiative of Turkey and Finland to introduce a resolution on the topic which Bulgaria readily co-sponsored.

The United Nations will benefit much from strengthening its cooperation with regional security organisations. The cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan is an excellent example. International support has to continue beyond 2014. We were all saddened by the brutal murder of a great Afghan leader — former President Rabbani.  His work must inspire us to continue supporting the Afghan government ‘s efforts at reconciliation and reintegration.

It is high time for bold and decisive actions in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation as well. It is the legal and moral obligation of all of us to honor the commitments undertaken with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Outcome document of the 2010 Review Conference. A strengthened and robust NPT regime is in the interest of all States, especially with the growing risk of non-state actors getting access to weapons of mass destruction. All States Parties, including DPRK, are bound by the NPT regime. Leaving the NPT should not be without consequences.

Cooperation with IAEA is also essential. As long as Iran continues to not provide greater transparency of its nuclear activities, the concerns of the international community will remain valid. Full compliance with the Security Council resolutions and with the provisions of the IAEA safeguards agreement is paramount for the diplomatic solution of this case.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The sad anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York we commemorate this year, the more recent tragic events in Oslo, Mumbai and other cities of the world prove that terrorism is a global cancer that does not discriminate against developed or developing countries and societies. Its eradication requires decisive actions. The successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism has Bulgaria’s full support.

Bulgaria attaches great importance to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and the only international court of universal character with general jurisdiction. We welcome the fact that the Court has acquired a solid reputation as an impartial institution with the highest legal standards that enjoys the trust of the Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I opened my presentation by focusing on the challenge of tackling non-communicable diseases. Human suffering caused by various illnesses is further exacerbated due to the effects of the series of global crises in food, finance and energy and the threats associated with climate change. Taken together, these and other new challenges impede progress towards the achievement of the MDGs.

Our world today faces challenges that will shape its tomorrow. We need to be able to meet these challenges in a bold manner, with a clear vision for the future and tackle them together as a global community of nations.

Thank you!

Сирия се нуждае от диалог, а не от репресии

02/08/2011 Leave a comment

AFP Photo

Безпрецедентна и ужасяваща е агресията, която упражняват сирийските власти върху собствения си народ. Не един са случаите на насилия, убийства, хиляди хора са арестувани при протестите срещу режима.

България, както и всички страни от Европейския съюз, категорично осъжда това насилие и твърдо апелира то веднага да спре. Очакваме  и ясната осъдителна реакция на Арабската лига, на съседните на Сирия държави, които не могат да останат безучастни към трагичните събития в страната.

Сирийското общество има достатъчно сили да преодолее различията и да тръгне по пътя на истински диалог между управляващи и опозиция. България винаги е изразявала готовността си да помага за осъществяването на този диалог, който да обедини обществото в определянето на бъдещето и да изключи всякаква употреба на сила.

На 1 август Европейският съюз разшири сакнциите върху сирийския режим.

Speech at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, DC

28/04/2011 Leave a comment

Nickolay E. Mladenov, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Addresses AJC's Global Forum

Dear friends from the Jewish community,

Before I start let me add my voice to those who have called for us to remember the victims of natural disasters in the United States over the last few days.

Let me also call on all of us to remember the victims of manmade disasters in the Middle East. Those people who are currently in the streets of Misrata, on the square in …, in Syria, standing up for their freedom peacefully and demanding that their vision of a free Middle East – a Middle East in which human rights are observed – be met.

David spoke briefly about the friendship between Bulgaria and the American Jewish Committee.

The friendship between Bulgaria and the American Jewish Committee has stood the test of time, much like the friendship of the Bulgarian people and the people of the United States of America.

To many of us the last twenty years were about bringing our country back to the community of values from which it was brutally separated by World War II, by the Nazis and then by Communism.

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell we looked to the United States as a beacon of democracy; we looked to the Jewish people, whose struggle for a homeland resembles much of our own history and whose ambitions for peace and recognition have been shared by countless Bulgarians throughout generations.

Our agenda was ambitious and bold — to transform our country into a democratic state; to revive and strengthen our traditions of tolerance and respect for all faiths; and to bring our country into NATO and the European Union. Our friends in the United States and Israel have stood with us every step of the way.

In August of last year my good friend David Harris was awarded the Order of the Madara Horseman — one of our nation’s highest decorations, for his invaluable contribution to the development of the Bulgarian – US relations.

Dear David,

Allow me today to extend that recognition to every single one of you here, to all members and friends of the American Jewish Committee and say thank you for consistently promoting the friendship between our nations and helping forge a strong alliance between Bulgaria and the United States,

Thank you for your unfailing support for reforms, and for promoting Bulgaria’s membership in the NATO;

Thank you for being there in times of need, including the time when AJC took a firm stand in advocating the release of the Bulgarian medics wrongly accused and sentenced to death by the Gaddafi regime in Libya;

Thank you for partnering with the Bulgarian Jewish Community “Shalom” in standing up to anti-Semitism; remembering the Holocaust; countering the influence of Islamist extremism and other movements hostile to our shared security.

Yashar Kochachem!

Dear friends,

Just a few days ago, Pesach was celebrated. At the Seder night you read in the Haggada: “in every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he or she himself has come out of Egypt.”

Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for “Egypt,” can also be read as Meitzarim meaning “boundaries” and “constrictions”; yetziat mitzrayim, “going out of Egypt,” is the endeavor to rise above all that inhibits us.

Our greatest challenge today is overcoming the meitzrayim that we have created ourselves and standing resolute for what is good, what is right, and what is righteous.

Tonight I would like to address three sets of questions — the threat of rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe; peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people; and the wave of change that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.

The choices that we make today on how we address these challenges will prove whether we have been able to collectively — as a global community of democracies — successfully complete our yetziat mitzrayim.

A recent report concluded that about half of all Europeans believe that there are too many immigrants in their countries, a significant number of people think that Jews seek to benefit from their forbearers’ suffering during the Nazi era; and half or more of respondents condemn Islam as “a religion of intolerance”. The report concluded that anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia are very closely linked. That those with anti-Semitic tendencies are likely to be xenophobic against other minority groups, including Muslims, as well as resentful of homosexuals and women.

Is it true that we can do nothing about these things? Should we accept them, should we accept the anti-Semitism and xenophobia as the boundaries — the meitzrayim — of today’s reality? Or should we challenge them, stand up and defend our own values?

Here are a few suggestions of what I think we should do challenge this threat.

First, we should never ever forget the crime of the Holocaust – as Yom Hashoa that will be internationally commemorated this coming Sunday

In human history to this day this remains perhaps the darkest hour. Keeping the memory of the Shoah alive serves the memories of the countless human beings who perished in the death camps, but also keeps us vigilant about the dangers of genocide around the world.

While remembering the Shoah, we should not shy away from showing the world the crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet Stalinist regime. Those crimes are an intricate part of the history of the Holocaust.

I come from a country that is in a turbulent part of the world, yet has managed to prove that people of different religions – Christians, Muslims and Jews; of different ethnic backgrounds – Bulgarians, Turks and Armenians can actually live together. Bulgaria has seen stellar moments in its history, for example when civil society rose during the Second World War and refused to allow its Jewish population to be sent to concentration camps saving the lives of about 50,000 human beings; or when, after the end of Communism, we peacefully reintegrated our Turkish minority back into our own country.

But it has also seen its dark moments – when it failed to save the Jewish populations of occupied Northern Greece and Vardar Macedonia who were deported to the death camps; or when the Communist regime expelled a large part of our Muslim citizens not because of anything they did, but because of who they were.

Our history teaches us that nations are strong when their civic spirit is strong. It teaches us that you must find pride not only in great historic battles and ancient legends, but in great feats of civic activism, in the standing up for your values and protecting your neighbors. The Jews of Bulgaria survived World War II because hundreds of religious and community leaders, politicians, ordinary men and women stood up and refused to be part of Hitler’s madness.

Imagine the courage and conviction it took to stand up to Nazi policies in a country that was allied with the Third Reich!

As a young Bulgarian I stand tall and proud of the spirit of my predecessors. Their example actually inspires me much more than the Medieval stories of greatness and empires that we have so many of in Europe.

As a human being I cannot but feel shameful that this civic spirit — so strong in Bulgaria during the times of the Shoah — was not present in the occupied territories, where at least 11,000 Jews perished. Their memory lives on and they shall never be forgotten.

It is because of this inspiring, yet tragic history that we in Bulgaria are very sensitive to any attempt to deny anyone their right of existence or of a homeland. This is why we are very sensitive to any attempt to deny the Jewish people the right of a homeland and a state.

I can accept criticism of the policies of any government, but I cannot stand idle when the right of existence is denied to anyone.

To dismiss such policies in passing, would mean to fail at our collective yetziat mitzrayim, because the success of our civilization will be measured by our ability to protect and promote the values of democracy, freedom and tolerance, not just by the number of iPads we produce.

My country today is the product of the traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims. One’s ethnic background, one’s religious believes do not matter — we are all a part of the Bulgarian nation. This is our richness, this makes us unique in the Balkans. Our diversity and sensitivity to all issues of identity beacons us to stand up and say clearly tonight three things:

  • we shall never accept the policies of Iran to develop nuclear weapons, to challenge the right of a member state of the United Nations to exist, to brutally oppress all opposition;
  • we will stand up to those who aim to subvert the Durban process; Bulgaria will continue to be part of the preparation for the forthcoming Durban III conference, but will reconsider its participation in the process if it fails to meet its original lofty goals and continues to unfoundedly single out the state of Israel. This is why in December 2010 we voted against the Durban Follow-up UN General Assembly Resolution;
  • we will say “no” to all who aim to de-legitimize Israel; The vilification and demonizing of Israel is not only a denial of its right of existence as a home for the Jewish people but a blunt assault on the very values of democracy, freedom and independent human spirit.

To refuse the right of Israel to exist means to refuse the right of the Palestinian people to also have a state of their own.

Which brings me to my second theme.

The Jewish people have the right to have a homeland in the State of Israel. The Palestinian people also have the right to a state of their own. Both have the obligation to live side by side in peace and prosperity. Both are destined to live together and in peace with their neighbors — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the Arab World.

Bulgaria is a country that boasts a strategic partnership with the State of Israel, but also has strong links with the Palestinian people.

Today, the leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian people face a historic challenge — to build a partnership that leads to a two-state solution and jointly work towards contributing to peace in the broader Middle East.

To be true partners, both sides need to take difficult decisions.

On the Palestinian side it means reasserting the full control of the PA — as a representative of the Palestinian people — over both the West Bank and Gaza; achieving reconciliation of all factions under one secular authority that recognizes all previous commitments and recommits not to use force or to allow terror to achieve its goals. Last but not least, it also means not to look for a unilateral solution but pursue the path of negotiations.

On the side of Israel it means holding back on policies that may be perceived to predetermine a final settlement; allowing more economic opportunity and activity in the West Bank in order to create the institutions of a future Palestinian state; and last but not least allowing for the economic opening of Gaza, while protecting the security of Israel.

In paving the way for peace we must recognize the legitimate concerns of both sides – Israel’s security and the need for a viable Palestinian state.

In this effort we cannot and must not forget the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza – they have the right to a better life. Just like the children of Sderot who have the right to go to school without the threat or rocket attacks.

It is the duty of all friends of peace to see that Israelis and Palestinians together overcome the boundaries, the constraints, the mietzrayim to peace. This is why Bulgaria will stand in support of all efforts to achieve reconciliation and to advance solutions based on negotiations, not violence or unilateral acts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism.

Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar.

  • Corrupt leadership breeds dissent and with no democratic process in place, this dissent pours out onto the streets.
  • Young people want to be engaged in the future of their countries, not forced into a world of virtual reality and frowned upon by aging dictators.
  • Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.

Add to that the feeling of revival, the demand of millions of young Arabs to be respected not to be denied the opportunities that others have, not to be talked down or discriminated and you have the makings of a revolution of Arab dignity and self respect, a historic revolution indeed.

As change sweeps across North Africa and the Middle East we in Europe and the United States need to look beyond tomorrow. In 1989 the United States and Western Europe at that point extended a hand to all of us coming out from Communist dictatorships by offering the prospect of EU and NATO membership.

Today, we need to match the scale of that historic effort of 20 years ago with a new partnership for security and prosperity with the Middle East and North Africa.

  • The EU should extend opportunities for economic cooperation and market access;
  • NATO should stand ready to promote a new Mediterranean security partnership;
  • The Council of Europe should offer association to all North African and Middle Eastern countries that want to protect human rights and enshrine in their constitutions the freedoms that we hold dear;
  • Central and Eastern Europe should offer the lessons learned from our transition to our Southern neighbors;
  • But most importantly perhaps, the US and the EU should always remember that it is our transatlantic bond that makes us strong and that bond should continue to be the cornerstone for all our policies in the Middle East.

These are some of the reasons why on May 5th and 6th, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry is convening the first of a series of international conferences to look at how we can support transition in the Middle East, while advancing the secular nature of government and protecting our security.

Before I conclude, I cannot but turn to the situation in Syria. Ten days ago I visited president Assad in Damascus and spoke at length with him. And I carried a strong message that had two elements. First, break the cycle of violence, pull back the tanks. Second, open up a rapid, radical programme of reforms for Syria. To this message I can only now add two things – stop harboring enemies of peace and extend a hand to agreement with your neighbors. Difficult choices are needed. But historic choices that are fundamental to the security of the Middle East, to the security of Europe and ultimately to the security of the United States. And I hope you will join me today and many others across Europe who want to call on the leadership of Syria to be loyal not to anyone else but to its own people and to initiate radical, massive, unprecedented reforms that will open up that country and provide for its return into the family of all modern nations. I think this is perhaps the most important message that this week we can all carry to our friends in the Middle East if we really not just crave but work for peace.

Dear David, dear friends,

I started by quoting the Mishna. “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he or she himself has come out of Egypt.” Pesah is the festival of eternal freedom, it shows that salvation is possible indeed, that we must do good, that it’s not just about remembering but reliving, overcoming and educating.

The values that are enshrined in the Pesah carry a universal message across religions and cultures.

A message that is shared by Christians on Easter, a message with which all who have lived in oppression can identify with. And I hope we take that message together to all those who continue to live under oppression.

Thank you!