73. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prime Minister Todor Zhivkov
  • Foreign Minister Ivan Bashev
  • Bulgarian Interpreter
  • Ambassador H.G. Torbert, Jr.
  • DCM Robert B. Houston, Jr.


  • Protocol Call on Prime Minister Zhivkov

Prime Minister Zhivkov welcomed me as a new Ambassador and wished success for my mission. He said that Bulgaria wished to have normal relations with the United States and wished that these relations would develop. In answer to my question about his recent trip to Hungary, where I said I had served in 1961–62, Prime Minister Zhivkov said that he shared the assessment of the Hungarian Party Congress which had been made by the Western press, namely, that there were no sensational developments. He gave as his personal impressions of the Party Congress that the development of friendship and cooperation between Hungary and the Soviet Union had been a major theme and that the Hungarian formulations about developing a socialized society coincided with Bulgarian views. He also said that expectations in certain Western circles that the Hungarian liberalization would turn [Page 193] out to be of a Western type were shown by the Congress to be groundless. Zhivkov then went on to charge that my question about his attendance at the Hungarian Party Congress indicated a lack of interest in the development of US-Bulgarian relations.

I assured the Prime Minister that US-Bulgarian relations were my prime concern. I said that I felt it was necessary to become acquainted before one could attempt to do serious business, and noted that by asking him about Hungary I felt we had become better acquainted. I said that US-Bulgarian relations could not be changed overnight but would have to be improved gradually over a period of time. I said that our two countries, and the East and West generally, were moving away from the cold war and hopefully into a period of increased mutual communication and economic exchange. I noted that some countries in the East as well as in the West had made good progress in moving away from the period of confrontation but that regrettably US-Bulgarian relations seem to be the last to change.

I said this immobility was no doubt connected with the lack of acquaintance between our two countries. I noted that there had been some recent steps towards overcoming such poor acquaintance. Department of Commerce official Harold Scott had visited Bulgaria in early summer, and two US Senators had come to Bulgaria in September and October respectively.2 First Deputy Foreign Minister Grozev had visited Washington shortly before I came to Bulgaria.3 Furthermore, agreement had just been reached for two groups of Bulgarian administrators to go to the United States to exchange views on economic management. Such contacts can only serve to improve our understanding.

Zhivkov took up this theme of lack of understanding and said that information about himself, both true and untrue, was well known in the United States. Picking up a paper which Foreign Minister Bashev had brought to the meeting, Zhivkov went on to say that he knew a lot about me, too. He said, for example, that he knew we were born in the same year and that I was only one month younger than he.

On a more serious note, Zhivkov said that his government felt that Bulgaria was developing successfully. He said that while this might not be true, his government nonetheless was satisfied that Bulgaria was [Page 194] on the right track. He noted that Bulgaria used to be the second poorest country in Europe, with only Albania being less well off. He complained that Bulgarians today do not remember how difficult life in Bulgaria used to be, but only wanted to have ever better living conditions. He noted that “Western centers” could perhaps take advantage of this desire of the Bulgarian people to live better.

I told Prime Minister Zhivkov that this revolution of rising expectations was known even in the United States. There, workers struck in the attempt to get ever higher living standards. I told him that I was impressed by Bulgariaʼs evident progress in developing industry and by the relatively contented appearance of the people. I said that I had served in many countries in differing stages of economic development and considered myself a competent observer in such matters.

I then noted that the Bulgarian press indicated that changes were coming up in the next few months concerning the Bulgarian economy and the Bulgarian government. I asked the Prime Minister what we should be expecting on this score.

At this point, Zhivkov looked a little puzzled and turned to Foreign Minister Bashev. The Foreign Minister explained to Zhivkov that my questions referred to the forthcoming economic changes. (See Sofiaʼs 1092).4

Zhivkov then said that nothing sensational should be expected. His government was always carrying out steps to improve the economy. He said that a Council of Ministers meeting had been going on prior to my call to discuss carrying out the technical revolution on a broad front pursuant to the decisions of the September (1969) and April (1970) plenums. These had provided for automated management and the concentration and specialization of agriculture. He confirmed that what Bulgaria was doing in the field of concentration and specialization of agriculture was novel, and laughingly said, “We do not recommend that anyone else adopt this path. This is something specific for Bulgarian conditions.”

I then asked him specifically whether the new constitution would go into effect only after the Party Congress.

Zhivkov confirmed that it would probably go into effect after approval by the Party Congress and certainly only after approval by the National Assembly. He did say, however, that both the draft constitution and a discussion of it would be published for national consideration.

In conclusion, I told the Prime Minister that I had no sensational proposals to make. I said that major changes in certain US-Bulgarian [Page 195] relationships would require Congressional action. Such action needs careful preparation and creation of a favorable atmosphere in the Congress. Creation of such an atmosphere is difficult if our countries are at each otherʼs throat. I hoped that these changes would come to pass. However, I noted that possibilities for small steps exist at present. I said I would do anything in my power to achieve such useful steps and expressed the hope that, with Prime Minister Zhivkovʼs help and with the help of his government, our relations would improve.

Zhivkov then said that no barriers exist on the Bulgarian side to the improvement of US-Bulgarian relations. He alleged that the barriers exist on the US side in the form of US discrimination against Bulgaria. How long such discrimination would continue, he said, was US business. He said that Bulgaria could wait and could be as patient as were the Chinese in this regard. He noted that some Western experts charge that conditions are desperate in Bulgaria; that all Bulgarian export goods are sold through the year 1975; that Bulgaria is suffering from serious labor shortages. He said these Western assessments were false and simultaneously added that Bulgaria could find goods to sell to the United States.

I said that when I read the Bulgarian press and listened to Bulgarian radio and TV, I found it difficult to believe that only the United States was making difficulties for US-Bulgarian relations.

Zhivkov was quick to point out that the discrimination of which he had been speaking was trade discrimination. He said that Bulgaria knew its place and that Bulgaria felt the US laws could be changed if US policy changed.

I said that one could argue whether the chicken or the egg comes first, but it was true that policy could be changed only in an appropriate climate. I wanted the US and Bulgaria to be better friends and I said I would work to this end.

In an apparent effort to show his personal interest and knowledge about Bulgariaʼs relations with the United States, he said that Ambassador Guerassimov was now in Sofia, although he had not yet seen him. He said that Ambassador Guerassimov was his personal friend. He implied that the latter had not been very industrious in Washington, but remarked, in a disarming fashion, that he would not say this to Ambassador Guerassimovʼs face.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL BUL–US. Limited Official Use. Initialed by Torbert. Transmitted to the Department of State as an enclosure to airgram A–285, December 3. The meeting took place in the Council of Ministers. In telegram 1107 from Sofia, November 30, Torbert commented on the meeting: “Zhivkov revealed nothing new and engaged in good-natured verbal sparring about lack of progress in US-Bulgarian relations.” (Ibid.)
  2. Senator Henry Bellman (R–Oklahoma) represented the United States at the opening of the Plovdiv Trade Fair in late September. The second senator has not been identified.
  3. An October 9 memorandum of conversation between Grozev and Johnson is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL BUL–US.
  4. Dated November 24; it reported Zhivkovʼs comments on Vietnam and the proposed Bulgarian economic reforms. (Ibid., E 1 BUL)