Friday, 1 February 2019

US Ambassador Congratulates Croatia on Decision to Fund LNG Terminal

ZAGREB, February 1, 2019 - The U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, W. Robert Kohorst, on Friday congratulated the Croatian government, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Energy Minister Tomislav Ćorić on the decision to finance the construction of the future LNG terminal on the Adriatic island of Krk.

"Congratulations to the Croatian government – particularly Prime Minister Plenković and Minister Ćorić – for approving funding for the Krk LNG terminal," reads the ambassador's statement.

"This project is an investment which maximizes Croatia’s gas supply options and makes a major contribution to regional gas supply diversification and security. The terminal will make LNG imports from a wide-range of suppliers possible and this competition will ensure the best gas prices," reads the statement posted on the embassy's website.

The diplomat says he is "pleased to see our strategic partner and ally taking such a positive leadership role."

On Wednesday, the Plenković cabinet adopted a decision on financing the first, 234 million euro stage of the LNG terminal project.

The estimated value of the project includes a specific vessel, that is the Floating Storage and Regasification Unit worth 160 million euro, and the construction of the infrastructure necessary for receiving, storing, reloading and regasification of liquefied natural gas, which is likely to cost 60 million euro, while the compensation for the expropriation of the land will require 14 million euro.

In 2017, the European Commission approved a 102 million euro grant for the construction of the floating LNG terminal off Krk.

The government is to set aside 50 million euro in 2019 and 2020 each for the project.

The remaining amount of 32.6 million will be provided by the founders of the LNG Croatia company, the HEP national electricity provider and the Plinacro gas network operator.

Energy Minister Ćorić told the cabinet that the LNG project was of strategic importance for Croatia and would contribute to the country's energy independence and security.

More news on the LNG terminal in Croatia can be found in the Business section.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

New Fighter Jets Purchase Only After Failed Deal with Israel Is Analysed

ZAGREB, January 29, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the government "has an idea" why the purchase of the Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets fell through, adding that no new steps would be taken regarding the acquisition of new planes until the entire case is thoroughly analysed.

Plenković said that at a meeting with US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst, held earlier in the day, he did not ask why the sale of the jets fell through because there was no need for that.

"I did not need to ask him. As you know, we are thoroughly analysing the entire process and after our talks with the Israeli side and consultations with the Americans we have a pretty good idea why this has happened," the prime minister said, adding that the analysis, that was still being conducted, would clarify what happened. He said the analysis would be completed in the coming weeks and until then no new steps aimed at acquiring fighter jets would be launched.

Earlier on Monday, Plenković held talks with Ambassador Kohorst who then told the press that he gave a document to the Croatian prime minister which outlined the process for obtaining approval for the F-16.

Shortly after Kohorst said that the statement he had given to the N1 commercial broadcaster about the failed deal between Israel and Croatia about fighter jets' purchase had been misinterpreted, and insisted that the Croatian government should not be blamed for the failure.

Kohorst thus reacted to some media interpretations of his statement that the Croatian government was aware of the procedure for obtaining approval for the purchase of US-made F-16 aircraft from Israel. "Counter to what some press have reported, the United States did not at any time advise the Croatian government not to purchase the Israeli F-16s," Kohorst said in his statement.

Plenković later said he had not seen the document and that this "was the exchange of technical papers at the level of the US Embassy and a representative of the Croatian authorities."

He underscored that the jets were only one of the topics discussed at the meeting, underscoring that Israel's offer with regard the quality and the price of the planes was very good. He reiterated that Israel had assumed responsibility for obtaining approval from the Americans.

More news on the defence issues can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 28 January 2019

US Ambassador: Croatia Was Aware of Approval Procedure for F-16

ZAGREB, January 28, 2019 - The US Ambassador in Croatia, Robert Kohorst, told the N1 commercial television channel on Monday that the Croatian government was aware of the procedure for obtaining approval for the purchase of US-made F-16 aircraft from Israel because he had given that document to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

Speaking to the press after meeting with Plenković at government headquarters, Kohorst commented on the statement made by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović that there existed a "white paper" which the US had sent to Croatia regarding the Israeli sale of F-16 fighter jets.

"I believe what the President was referring to was a paper that I gave to the Prime Minister, which outlined the process for getting approval for the F-16. It wasn't really a white paper, it wasn't critical about the process, it was more an information piece about how the process worked," Kohorst said.

In an interview with N1 on Sunday, Grabar-Kitarović confirmed that the Americans had been clear from the start about the technical requirements for the transfer of the aircraft, but that no one could have predicted the problems that had arisen between the US and Israel regarding the matter.

The Croatian president denied the existence of an American non-paper warning about possible problems regarding the transfer of the Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia and said that there only existed an American white paper containing technical instructions for all bids submitted to the Croatian Ministry of Defence that referred to the originally US-made aircraft.

"I believe we communicated to everyone there was a regular process called third-party transfer, that required US government approval for the transfer, and they were aware of how that process worked," Kohorst said, adding that he didn’t know if everyone knew all the details, but "they certainly knew the general process."

Asked why the process had failed eventually, the ambassador said he did not know. "The US government gave approval for the transfer, it’s just the conditions of that approval weren’t acceptable to all the parties… It was required that the planes be brought back to the original NATO configuration, which is the type of aircraft that Croatia needs in order to be a NATO partner," Kohorst said.

More news on the unsuccessful acquisition of the military jets can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

“USA Was Clear About F-16 Fighter Jets from the Start”

ZAGREB, January 27, 2019 - Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said in an interview with the N1 broadcaster aired on Sunday that the United States had been clear from the very start about the technical requirements for the transfer of F-16 fighter jets but that nobody could have predicted the problems that arose between the USA and Israel regarding the matter.

The president dismissed claims that there was a US non-paper warning about possible problems regarding the sale of Israeli F-16 Barak jets to Croatia.

She said that there was only a white paper with US technical instructions for all bids submitted to the Croatian Defence Ministry that referred to originally U.S.-made aircraft. "I asked US Ambassador Robert Kohorst very directly if there was the non-paper that has been talked about in Croatia. He told me that technical instructions from the United States, not only in the case of the Israeli bid, but also in the case of the Greek bid, as well as the very US bid that referred to new, F-16 Block 70/72 planes... are interpreted as a non-paper," Grabar-Kitarović said.

She noted that the US side had been very cooperative in the process and that it was right to say that it had been clear about the conditions for the transfer of the jets from the very beginning. However, nobody could have predicted the problems that arose between Israel and the USA in the process, she said.

Grabar-Kitarović stressed that she did not consider the failed purchase of the F-16 Barak planes a diplomatic scandal because Israel had assumed responsibility for obtaining US permission for its deal with Croatia.

Croatia was supposed to buy 12 used F-16 C/D Barak fighter jets from Israel for an estimated 2.9 billion kuna.

The deal definitely fell through after Israel officially informed Croatia that it could not obtain approval from the United States for the delivery of the U.S.-made jets because the United States objected to Israel's plan to sell upgraded jets.

More news on the unsuccessful purchase of the aircraft can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Croatian Post Mixed up Croatian Composer with Thomas Jefferson

The lucky buyers who bought a postage stamp with the figure that is supposed to represent the 18th century Dubrovnik composer Luka Sorkočević at post offices and kiosks in Dalmatia, now own a very rare stamp which has reached a price of several thousand euros at recent auctions. In its Prominent Croats series, the Croatian Post mistakenly printed the figure of US President Thomas Jefferson instead of Sorkočević, reports Večernji List on January 26, 2019.

“In the Prominent Croats series, three stamps were issued: Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Ivan Supek and Luka Sorkočević. When it comes to the third stamp, the one with Luka Sorkočević, there was a mistake in the design. Namely, the portrait of Thomas Jefferson was used instead of Sorkočević,” admitted the Croatian Post.

The portrait of the American president, which was used by the designer hired by the Croatian Post thinking it was Sorkočević, was painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1805 and is often misused in various sources as an illustration of the Croatian composer. The error was detected by the Croatian Post before the release date, on April 21, 2015, but 22 stamps had been already sold in Dalmatia. Now, almost four years later, the stamps’ value has increased substantially.

“The rest of the printed stamps have been destroyed, and new stamps with the correct motif, signature and notation were printed. We did not use a portrait because there is no contemporary portrait of Sorkočević from his lifetime,” explained the Croatian Post.

After the incident, the post introduced additional controls before the printing approval, and it is no longer possible to buy stamps before the official release date.

“From a philatelist standpoint, such a stamp is a rarity, and the fact that only 22 stamps were sold adds value to it. We do not know who bought these stamps and whether they ended up on letters or postcards or were bought by lucky philatelists who saw the mistake and kept them in their original condition,” explained the Croatian Post.

The stamp has never been registered with the World Postal Union, so it is not officially recognised as a Croatian Post stamp. Such mistakes are extremely rare, and this is the only case in Croatia where such stamps have reached the sales point.

More news on the Croatian Post can be found in the Business section.

Translated from Večernji List (reported by Sandra Veljković).

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Croatian Defence Ministry Explains Away US Embassy E-Mails

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - The Defence Ministry on Tuesday commented on emails sent to it by the US Embassy, saying that over a thousand were exchanged officially and unofficially during the procurement of fighter jets, but that the only important thing was that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document.

Hina asked the ministry for a comment after the publication of the second email in the correspondence between the embassy and Assistant Defence Minister Petar Mihatov, in which the embassy sent Croatia a non-paper concerning the procurement of used F-16s.

"During the procurement procedure, there was a lot of official and unofficial communication as well as many elements and questions we resolved in agreement with our partners because it was a very complex project. In such a complex process, over a thousand emails were exchanged, there was very demanding correspondence at several levels. Because of responsibility, we held a series of additional consultations both with the American and the Israeli side," the ministry said.

However, the only important thing is what all the official documents say, that Israel, as the selected bidder, had the obligation to obtain US approval, to which it officially committed when the offer was accepted by enclosing preliminary approval, the ministry said.

The only essential thing is that the US did not prohibit the sale of Israeli aircraft to Croatia in any official document, but gave the official preliminary approval that was required for the validity of Israel's offer, the ministry said.

"As you know, Israel officially informed us that, contrary to the responsibility it assumed, unfortunately, it cannot obtain the required US approval for the delivery of Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft to Croatia. Israel's representatives said in Zagreb clearly that there was no responsibility on Croatia's part. There is no material or non-material damage for Croatia," the ministry said.

Media have published two emails which the US Embassy exchanged with Mihatov, informing him that Israel did not obtain US permission for selling fighter jets and that it might not be granted at all.

More news on the unsuccessful acquisition of the fighter jets can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Croatia to Buy American F-16s?

ZAGREB, January 15, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Monday Croatia would procure new fighter jets and that the purchase of American F-16s was one of the likeliest options, adding that he expected the US to make its strategic partner the best offer "which the Croats certainly won't be able to refuse."

"Personally, I'd like the F-16 platform. I'd like them to be new planes, fewer ones and that, taking into account the funds we have, it is realistic for Croatia," he told the press after a cabinet meeting at which a decision on the procurement of Israeli multipurpose F-16 Baraks was put out of force.

Krstičević said he would systematically examine every option. "I believe our partner, the US, will do everything to make Croatia the best offer. We are responsible for the security of Croatia, the security of the air space. We believe we will get aircraft which is good for Croatia and which citizens can afford."

"This with the Americans, it's one of the options we are closest to, but we expect the US to make its strategic partner, the Croats, the best offer which the Croats certainly won't be able to refuse."

He said Croatia was interested in the F-16 Block 70/72. "A smaller number, step by step, expecting the prices to be good for Croatia."

He said no one must be eliminated, though. "The whole state leadership should consider everything and choose what's most realistic for Croatia."

Krstičević said he was talking to the defence ministers whose countries recently bought US aircraft but would not speculate how much the new jets could cost Croatia. "We must be responsible about our money, so that we get the best price-quality ratio."

Asked if there had been hidden offers in the previous tender and if something had been offered under the table, Krstičević said he did not allow that. "Everything I and my associates did was extremely transparent, systematic, in the best faith and in the function of national interests."

He said Croatia had embarked on the procurement of fighter jets ambitiously because the state of Croatia's MiG aircraft "forced us to define the process as soon as possible."

The minister said Croatia's security was not in danger and that Croatia was a secure country. He reiterated that there was no damage to the national budget after the procurement of F-16s from Israel had fallen through, saying the expenses of going to meetings had served to strengthen cooperation with Israel. "They are very small for us."

More news on Croatia’s fighter jet acquisition can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 11 January 2019

US Embassy: Conditions on F-16 Fighter Jets Were Clear Entire Time

ZAGREB, January 11, 2019 - The United States Embassy in Zagreb said on Friday that during the entire process aimed at providing Croatia with F-16 fighter jets from Israel the United States was clear regarding the conditions necessary for Third Party Transfer (TPT).

The Croatia-Israeli deal has definitely fallen through after Israel officially informed Croatia that it could not obtain an approval of the United States for the delivery of the fighter jets.

After talks with our Israeli colleagues, "I can tell you that the State of Israel has officially informed the Defence Ministry that ... it cannot obtain the necessary approval from the United States for the delivery of the Israeli F-16 fighter jets to Croatia," Krstičević told the news conference on Thursday evening.

"The United States wholeheartedly supported Croatia’s acquisition of a NATO-compatible fourth generation aircraft from Israel, and worked to make this transfer a reality," according to a press release which the US Embassy in Croatia issued after given an exemption from Washington.

Due to the lapse in appropriations on December 21, the U.S. Embassy has been unable to publicly engage with any media. However, Washington has given the US Embassy in Croatia an exemption in order to issue the on-the-record response regarding the sale of Israeli F-16s to Croatia.

"As is common in these types of transfers, there are specific technical conditions that need to be in place to enable U.S. approval of the transfer. We were clear about those conditions throughout, and our December 27, 2018 approval of the transfer was consistent with that message." the US Embassy said.

"We remain committed to assisting the Republic of Croatia in its procurement of NATO-compatible combat aircraft," the embassy said.

Croatia was supposed to buy 12 Israeli F-16 C/D Barak fighter jets for an estimated 2.9 billion kuna payable over a ten year period. The US objected the sale of modified F-16 fighter jets to Croatia.

 More news on the relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in our Politics section.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

USA and Israel Fail to Agree on Sale of F-16 Fighter Jets to Croatia

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not find a solution for the sale of Israeli F-16 fighter jets to Croatia at their meeting in Brazil on Tuesday, report Večernji List and Jutarnji List on January 2, 2019.

Diplomatic sources close to Israel says that Pompeo and Netanyahu did discuss the topic, but that the agreement was not reached.

Americans remain firm in their position that Israel can only sell to Croatia the original version of the F-16 aircraft, without any upgrades which were added by Israel in the meantime, which is, on the other hand, unacceptable to Croatia.

According to a senior Israeli official, the sale of aircraft to Croatia was the only disagreement Pompeo and Netanyahu did not solve during their meeting. "The matter is stuck in deep bureaucracy,” the Israeli official said.

On December 27, the US State Department sent a letter to Israel with more than ten conditions which need to be met in order for the US government to allow the sale of US-produced aircraft to Croatia. They all boil down to the same - Americans demand that the aircraft, which the Israelis have modernised with 17 modifications, must not have anything on them that is not American.

The deadline for Israel’s final reply expires on Friday, but some saw the meeting between Pompeo and Netanyahu in Brazil, where both of them attended the inauguration of the new Brazilian president, as a possibility for an agreement to be reached. This option does not exist anymore.

It is expected that Croatia will annul its decision to buy the Israeli aircraft and will annul the tender for the purchase of combat aircraft.

The news was first published by the US website Axios, which has extensively covered the issue of the sale of the aircraft to Croatia in recent weeks.

More news on the sale of the aircraft can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 28 December 2018

US Congress Approves F-16 Sale to Croatia, Final Decision Still Unclear

ZAGREB, December 28, 2018 - The US Congress has okayed Israel's sale of F-16 fighter jets to Croatia, whereby the whole procedure has been returned to the State Department for consideration, Večernji List daily said on its website on Thursday. The paper says that members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs did not state, within the legal deadline of 15 days, any objections to the F-16 sale to Croatia, whereby Congress formally approved the proposed transfer of US weapons to a third country.

The paper says this is an important step in the sale but that it does not mean the transfer has been approved. Under the law, Congress approved the sale of the original jets, as they were when the US delivered them to Israel, without the Israeli modifications, and their value was 135 million dollars.

Earlier this month, the US Axios portal said the US was blocking Israel's sale of 12 US-made F-16 Barak jets to Croatia that were about 30 years ago, which Israel upgraded and which would cost Croatia 2.9 billion kuna over a ten-year period.

The US transfers US-made military equipment to partners via the Foreign Military Sales programme, as part of which the buyer commits to requesting Washington's permission in writing before changing the end use, modification or further sale, as regulated via the Third Party Transfer process.

Israel upgraded the old US aircraft with advanced Israeli-made systems in order to persuade the Croatians to buy the jets, Channel 10 has said, adding that the Americans have accused Israel of unfair conduct and making money at America's expense and that, according to Washington, Israel cannot sell to third parties without US approval.

Senior Croatian officials have emphasised several times that they will insist on all the terms of the agreement on the purchase of F-16s with Israel being honoured or a new tender for the purchase of new aircraft will be issued.

US ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst said earlier this month that Israel needed to accept the technical requirements so that the US could approve the sale of the 12 fighter jets, adding that this was about who owned the technology and intellectual property rights. "The Israelis need to accept the technical requirements and as soon as that's done we can move forward and the sale can go through," Kohorst said then.

According to Kohorst, "the United States has consistently said what the technical requirements are for more than two years and everyone should have known that these are the technical requirements and so it's a bit of a surprise to me that there is this slowdown right now."

He also explained that "the debate is who will pay for the conversion because the USA and its contractors Lockheed Martin have to do the work because they're the ones who own the technology and intellectual property."

Kohorst said he is sure Israel made its offer in good faith, adding that Croatia, the United States and Israel are "great allies" and will resolve this problem.

More news on the relations between the United States and Croatia can be found in our Politics section.

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