SOFIA, March 1 (Reuters) The United States is negotiating with Bulgaria to add a third US military base to two it already plans to set up in the Balkan country, Bulgarian Defence Minister Veselin Bliznakov said today.
Bliznakov said bases at Bezmer airfield and Novo Selo shooting range, both near the NATO newcomer's southern border with Turkey, had been agreed, but talks were continuing over a an airfield in central Bulgaria.
''We expect to sign the deal in April. We have agreed for two bases for now and talks are now underway for a possible third at Graf Ignitievo,'' Bliznakov told reporters. ''But it has not yet been decided.'' The airfield had been on the table with two other sites in early talks but was later dropped. But Bliznakov said it had been proposed again in the closing stages of the talks and a decision should be made in the coming days.
Sofia expects to sign the deal when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Bulgaria during a meeting of NATO member states at the end of April.
The new bases are part of Washington's plan to draw down 70,000 troops from large Cold War installations in central Europe and Asia and shift to smaller, more mobile units that are closer to potential hot spots in the West Asia and Africa.
In December, the United States signed a deal with Romania to open several bases, including one at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airfield near the Black Sea, which human rights groups have said may have been used as a secret CIA jail.
The two Bulgarian bases already agreed are expected to host as many as 3,000 U.S. troops at a time.
Reuters KD BS1626