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WASHINGTON — U.S. and Bulgarian officials expect to reach an agreement on basing American troops in Bulgaria by March, the Bulgarian Defense Minister said Tuesday.

The news came on the same day the United States signed an agreement to have bases in Romania.

Speaking at a meeting of European defense ministers Tuesday, Bulgaria’s Vesselin Bliznakov told reporters the United States had expressed interest in basing troops in his country.

The two sides are in talks, Bliznakov said through a translator, and Bulgaria expects to receive economic benefits from hosting U.S. bases.

Also Tuesday, Romanian Gen. Mircea Savu said Romania will see some definite benefits from having U.S. troops stationed in his country, including contracts and dual use of American technology.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautioned that the U.S. bases envisioned for Romania are temporary and not on the scale of the U.S. troop presence in Germany.

Rumsfeld said the term “bases” is misleading, and a better way to refer to the locations is “forward operating sites,” stressing the U.S. military’s need to remain agile and flexible.

Formed in 1996 to promote peace and security in southeastern Europe, the defense ministers group consists Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States, according to the Defense Department.

The group announced Tuesday that member nations are sending troops to Afghanistan in February to assume the mission as headquarters of the Kabul Multinational Brigade of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The member nations are sending a total of 450 troops to Afghanistan, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter wrote via e-mail Tuesday.


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