74. Telegram From the Embassy in Bulgaria to the Department of State1

621. Subject: Review of bilateral relations with Foreign Minister—Policy. Ref: Sofia 542 (Notal).2

Summary: In lengthy discussion of US-Bulgarian relations arranged at my request, FonMin Bashev strongly established cessation of our broadcasting in Bulgarian from non-American territory as well as end to discriminatory trade legislation as precondition for any real improvement in our bilateral relations. End summary.

I had an hour and a half free-swinging conversation with Bulgarian FonMin Bashev late afternoon July 2. After preliminary perfunctory discussion of visit of Greek DepFonMin Palamas, I expressed my interest in having first comprehensive bilateral discussion since Amb McSweeneyʼs meeting with First Deputy FonMin Grozev in November 1969, partly precipitated by report Bashev had told German Trade Commissioner improvement in US-Bulgarian relations inhibited because the U.S. had no Bulgarian policy. I too had the feeling our relations not improving as they should, but disagreed as to the cause. Noted that this was a personal initiative, approved but not directed by my government.3 Presented him translation of sections on Eastern Europe and Bulgaria in Secretaryʼs March 26 foreign policy message to Congress4 and invited him to compare conciliatory wording thereof with his own remarks about the United States in his foreign policy speech to the Party Congress5 which was the only comparable document I could find. I then reviewed and left with him informal list of 21 U.S. actions to improve bilateral relations during past years, some of which successful and some frustrated by Bulgarian side.6
>With skillful histrionic display he launched into long statement that two countries would not have good relations until U.S. made up its mind to take a different attitude on some of the fundamental problems facing us. He was not talking now about world problems on which we had disagreements and could argue at great length, but primarily about the matter of broadcasting. The U.S. is building a powerful transmitting station less than 100 miles from Bulgariaʼs border which cannot be considered as necessary to our proper concerns, as friendly or as a serious indication of our intention to improve relations. It is impossible to convince Bulgarian “ruling circles” that they should make any moves themselves as long as we were doing this sort of thing. It was as though they put an anti-American station in Canada or Cuba or helped to finance the Black Panther movement which, of course, they would not do because they did not sympathize with Black Panther tactics. He recognized difference between RFE and VOA but said it was only one of technique and sophistication; both were motivated by attitude antagonistic to Bulgaria.
After ten minutes of this, he turned for shorter attack to MFN question, saying that they could well understand lack of trade with America if it were based on unprofitability or mere disinclination, but when we have legislatively singled out Communist countries as enemies and, in effect, designated Bulgaria as a dangerous country, this set the tone for the attitudes of all U.S. businessmen and was totally incompatible with improved relations. Therefore, unless we made up our minds to take these fundamental steps as indicating our desire for improved relations, the latter would never occur no matter how much we did in the way of “small steps.” He had been working for a decade in the hopes that results would be obtained from the latter technique, but was now convinced it wouldnʼt. He had twice had meetings with Secretary Rush designed to improve relations in which he had not raised these basic matters so strongly, but now realized they were fundamental.
I rebutted at some length noting we were not alone in foreign broadcasting field, including foreign broadcasting from other territory not oneʼs own. While I appreciated his view, I thought it important he visualize view from other side of fence where we too were concerned with world peace and saw it frustrated by complete control of access to the full facts of any situation and a steady flow of one-sided, vicious propaganda against the United States and its allies. It was this all pervasive propaganda which was the basic cause of most of the difficulties. The U.S. could not get to a fundamental change in its laws which required domestic political consensus unless both countries succeeded in lowering our voices a bit. The U.S. had accomplished this in great measure, but it seemed to me the Bulgarians had not. It might be somewhat of a chicken and egg proposition, but we were trying to break [Page 198] the circle and improve the climate. I noted that if he could actually listen to a VOA broadcast, I thought he would have difficulty in telling me precisely what they objected to. International broadcasting is a general international practice, the right to which no country would wish to give up. Furthermore, if he had been following recent Pentagon Paper disclosure case in the United States, he might be aware of how fundamental freedom of information is in our outlook. Therefore, if he was saying that the only possibility for improved bilateral relations was the abolition of international broadcasting, I was afraid that I and my successors would have rather futile tours. On trade legislation, I thought there was more hope in the long run, but it would require patient effort to eliminate polemics.
Bashev concentrated thereafter on question of broadcasting from foreign territory. I rebutted that this was a matter of relations between allies and fact that we were among largest broadcasters was historical carry-over of our resource position at end of war. If we reduced our efforts, I felt sure others would carry them on. His climactic point was that stationing of transmitter in Greece was a poisoning element in Greek-Bulgarian bilateral relations in which we were thus interfering. Germany not specifically mentioned and RFE only incidentally.
Discussion got quite blunt and heated at times, but in end Bashev crawled off diplomatic limb to extent of saying that while he saw no prospects for improved relations, it should not follow that they would deteriorate further. Bulgaria was sincerely interested in maintaining present level and improving it once we took fundamental steps. He also assured me of his availability at any time for further discussions and I emphasized my reciprocal availability.
Comment: This was a forceful, histrionic performance delivered with all the fervor of a religious fanatic. It is notable that for the moment, foreign broadcasting has replaced MFN as a number one problem in Bulgarian eyes. It seems highly likely this is part of the orchestrated attack and that Bulgaria selected to emphasize point of extraterritorial transmitting stations since they neither have any, or as far as we know, host any. This probably means a continued period of chilly political weather here. It also well illustrates depth of Bulgarian concern to maintain ideological and cultural purity.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL BUL–US. Confidential. Repeated to USIA, Belgrade, Athens, Bonn, Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, and Munich. A memorandum of this conversation was transmitted as an attachment to airgram A–166 from Sofia, July 8. (Ibid.)
  2. Dated June 12; it reported on the Foreign Ministerʼs comments to German trade representatives. (Ibid., POL BUL–W GERM)
  3. Approval was given in telegram 106819 to Sofia, June 16. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL BUL–US)
  4. “United States Foreign Policy, 1969–1970: A Report by the Secretary of State,” released March 26; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, April 5, 1971, pp. 465–477.
  5. This speech is summarized and extracts are printed in Keesingʼs Contemporary Archives, 1971–1972, pp. 24747–24748.
  6. Not found.