By MICHAEL R. GORDON
This picture taken on Oct. 31, 2013, shows workers welding pipes during the symbolic start of the construction of the Bulgarian section of Russian gas giant Gazprom's South Stream pipeline near the village of Rasovo.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said that the United States would help Bulgaria reduce its dependence on Russia for its energy supplies.
Bulgaria, a member of NATO, relies on Russia for 85 percent of the gas it uses and for 100 percent of its nuclear fuel, according to American officials.
“No country in the world should be totally dependent for its energy supply on one other country,” Mr. Kerry, who is making his first trip here as secretary of state, said in a joint news conference with Boiko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister.
“The United States is prepared to help Bulgaria, which has made difficult decisions in order to try to protect its energy future,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are committed to try to help attract investment and provide assistance.”
While in Sofia, Mr. Kerry met with Bulgaria’s president, prime minister and foreign minister. He left midafternoon to fly to Paris, where he will meet with President François Hollande of France and other senior officials — an addition to his schedule after complaints that the United States did not send a senior official to Sunday’s memorial rally and march after last week’s deadly terrorist attacks.
“My visit to France is basically to share a big hug with Paris and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there who have been through a terrible time,” Mr. Kerry said.
A senior State Department official, who could not be identified under the agency’s procedures for briefing reporters, said that one major challenge was to develop an alternative for the South Stream pipeline project, which was to funnel gas to Bulgaria from a pipeline under the Black Sea but which Russia canceled as tensions between the Kremlin and the West grew over the crisis in Ukraine.
The United States, the official said, was working with officials in Sofia and Athens on possibly establishing a pipeline to Bulgaria from a liquefied natural gas terminal in Greece. But the official acknowledged that such discussions were at a “preliminary stage.”
“We’re also talking to them about diversifying their nuclear energy options and other options,” the official said, alluding to a possible project in which the Westinghouse Electric Company would build a nuclear power plant.
Mr. Kerry said that the United States would send an energy envoy to Bulgaria and that the United States Export-Import Bank would be involved.
But the secretary cautioned that any effort to attract investment would depend on the country’s ability to fight corruption.
On the Iranian nuclear talks, Mr. Kerry said that he might meet in Paris on Friday with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister. Mr. Kerry met for more than six hours with Mr. Zarif in Geneva on Wednesday, and Mr. Kerry said his decision on whether to meet again this week would depend on whether American and Iranian negotiating teams made progress.
Mr. Kerry said that in his conversations with Mr. Zarif, he had continued to raise the plight of American citizens who have been jailed by Iran. But Mr. Kerry did not say whether the United States would be prepared to negotiate an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, and lift economic sanctions against Tehran, if the jailed Americans were still in jail.
Speaking of Boko Haram’s recent attacks in Nigeria, Mr. Kerry said they were “a crime against humanity” and that he was working with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, on a “special initiative” to respond to the violence. Mr. Kerry gave no details, and it was not clear whether he had a diplomatic step such as a conference or something more ambitious in mind.