874.00/6–747: Telegram

The Acting Representative in Bulgaria (Horner) to the Secretary of State

urgent   niact

408. Re Mistel 398, June 5.1 I called upon Prime Minister this noon. He had previously seen British political representative. Present was Foreign Minister.

[Page 160]

I told Prime Minister that in view publicity which arrest Agrarian leader Nikola Petkov would arouse in US, I would be interested in ascertaining from him government’s reasons for carrying out arrest.

Prime Minister then spoke roughly as follows: For considerable period government has been observing activities Petkov and his collaborators. Documentary evidence had been accumulated clearly showing he had been preparing coup d’état. Public prosecutor consequently felt it necessary to ask GNA to withdraw Petkov parliamentary immunity. Action to that effect was first recommended by Justice Committee of GNA and action by GNA as whole followed. Petkov was then arrested, is now being examined, and soon will be tried in open court. If Petkov is innocent he will be released and if guilty will have to take consequences. He will be tried “by sovereign Bulgarian country and not in London or Washington”. Task of Prime Minister and Bulgarian Government is to assure fair trial. Prime Minister personally had given instructions that Petkov will be well treated, be attended by his personal physician, would have adequate diet and various small comforts, and “not a hair will fall from his head”. Petkov is Bulgarian subject and subject to Bulgarian law. Intervention will be useless and intervention of foreign countries would only arouse suspicion that he had underground connections abroad. However if Petkov is American agent we should take steps to defend him.

I then said I had not received instructions from my government regarding this case but since I thought Prime Minister appreciated frankness I would like to give him my own impressions. I then said something along following lines. I believe my government would view Petkov’s arrest with greatest concern. It is obvious that this was not an action which had occurred on spur of moment but must have required considerable preparation, groundwork for which had been laid by article by press director Topencharov in government newspaper Otechestven Front at time of sentence of General Popov (Mistel 343, May 232). To me it seemed particularly unfortunate that at time when US Senate was in process of ratifying peace treaty3 Bulgaria GNA was engaged in passing measure withdrawing parliamentary immunity of widely-known and respected opposition leader. In previous conversation with me Prime Minister had stressed his desire for early ratification of peace treaty in order to pave way for subsequent friendly relations between our two countries. Present action coming on top of measures taken against opposition press could only be regarded by my government and American public opinion as extremely [Page 161] inauspicious beginning. I had no doubt but that my government would regard arrest as violation spirit of peace treaty. I have searched for possible motive government action and could only conclude that it was its intention to do away with opposition as effective force prior to entry into effect of peace treaty.

Prime Minister asserted that GNA action waiving Petkov’s parliamentary immunity had only happened to coincide with Senate approval of peace treaty ratification and there was no connection between two events. Bulgarians fully desire to carry out both letter and spirit of peace treaty. Government did not plan to liquidate opposition but on contrary wanted it to continue. However it would have to be a loyal opposition and not composed of coup d’étatists and saboteurs. He would never permit Bulgaria to become another Greece or Turkey. Prime Minister then quoted Bulgarian proverb to effect that “one should not burn a quilt to catch a flea”. Petkov was a flea although possibly a large one and his fate should not mar relations between Bulgaria and US.

I should explain that Deptel 200 June 6, 8 p. m.,4 did not reach mission until 2:15 p. m. today, that is several hours after my interview with Dimitrov. If Department believes I exceeded standing instruction in my conversation with him, I can only express my regret.5 However it seemed to me that situation was sufficiently serious to warrant prompt action. I had already discussed case fully with General Robertson and Sterndale Bennett. Robertson was in full accord with my proposed line of action and Sterndale Bennett himself was taking similar steps. Neither Sterndale Bennett nor I overlooked likelihood that Dimitrov may issue distorted communiqué on these talks. Consequently I hope Department will find it possible to issue press release on subject as early as possible. Sterndale Bennett is recommending similar course of action to Foreign Office. As for further local action both General Robertson and General Oxley have discussed possibility of ACC meeting but are agreed that chances of positive result are virtually nil. However, if Department wishes such approach for record, suggest Robertson be so instructed.

As I see it arrest of Petkov, who is by far most popular and best known opposition leader in country, is but another link in chain which FF has been forging for past six months. Purpose of chain is to tie our hands completely before effective date of treaty confronting us at that time with situation akin to that in Yugoslavia at present. After [Page 162] forging each link smith has looked up to see whether his action was noticed. Finding strength of our displeasure barely sufficient to raise ripple on lake on summer day he continued his work with tranquil mind. For record I must state my conviction that reluctance of Department and British Foreign Office to authorize Sterndale Bennett and myself to make early strong and publicized protest against action taken against two opposition newspapers at end of April was contributing factor leading Bulgarian Government to take present steps against Petkov.

While realizing this is matter of high level policy and raises numerous implications I feel gravamen of considerations leading to decision last February (Deptel 44, Feb 4 [13]6) to recognize Bulgarian regime shortly after ratification of peace treaty based on premise there would be effective and reasonably free opposition at that time. If that is so suggest decision be reexamined in context of past several months. There are now unresolved considerable number of problems of greater or lesser moment a partial list of which was contained in Mistels 314, May 10 and 351 May 27.7 To recognize present Bulgarian regime without assiduous effort to obtain specific assurances in advance on such of these questions as Department considers of basic importance would seem great mistake. It would mean writing off Bulgaria and abandoning any hope of implementing Article II of treaty. Believe we should hold up recognition until we are satisfied that minimum of conditions will be met or we should face fact that we will have no influence in this country in future. Middle course of recognizing government with pious statement that we hope they will observe Article II would seem to me to be least desirable alternative.

  1. Not printed: it reported information that the Parliamentary immunity of Nikola Petkov had been or was about to be removed and that Petkov was probably already under arrest on the charge of conspiracy against the government (874.00/6–547). The information was confirmed the next day.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The Senate approved the treaties of peace with Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania on June 5.
  4. Not printed; it instructed Acting Representative Horner, in his interview with Prime Minister Dimitrov, to confine himself to requesting such facts as might be forthcoming regarding the arrest of Petkov. Further instructions were being withheld pending the receipt of additional information (874.00/6–547).
  5. In telegram 203, June 9, to Sofia, not printed, the Department expressed approval of the action reported in this telegram (874.00/6–747).
  6. Not printed; it stated that the Department’s proposed policy for the recognition of the Bulgarian Government as set forth in telegram 33, January 28 (p. 144) need not be altered as a result of the British action extending de jure recognition to Bulgaria (874.01/2–1147).
  7. Telegram 351 not printed. It reported that Acting Representative Horner, during a discussion with Foreign Minister Georgiev on May 26, had raised several questions in accordance with previous Department instructions. These matters included the unacceptability to the United States of the Bulgarian expropriation of American tobacco interests, the reservation of rights to certain American-owned properties transferred to the Soviet Union as German assets, the confiscation of American periodicals, discriminatory action against American film companies, and the publication of anti-American material in the Bulgarian press (717.71/5–2747).