255. Memorandum From Paula Dobriansky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Attempted Assassination of the Pope: Unofficial Soviet Paper

At Tab I is the text of an intemperately-worded “unofficial” paper delivered by Soviet Embassy Charge Bessmertnykh to Under Secretary of State Eagleburger. The demarche disclaims any Soviet or Bulgarian responsibility in the attempted assassination of the Pope, alleges that the U.S. is waging a “slanderous campaign” against the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, and further accuses the U.S. of libeling Soviet leaders.2 The paper reflects a strong reaction to Western speculations that Andropov, as former head of the KGB, must have been intimately involved in the attempted assassination. It concludes with usual Soviet rhetoric by saying that unless this campaign of vilification against Soviet and Bulgarian leadership ceases, the Soviets will feel “free to act accordingly”—whatever this means.

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Under Secretary Eagleburger has already rejected the protest and its allegations as entirely false. In fact, he noted that U.S. official comment on this issue has been restrained. Lastly, the Under Secretary mentioned that the offensive tone and content of the paper could affect U.S. views of the new Soviet leadership’s attitudes on our bilateral relations.

I do not believe that any further action on our part is warranted. Dennis Blair and Al Myer concur.



An unbridled slanderous campaign is being conducted in the USA against Bulgaria and the Soviet Union alleging their involvement in the assassination attempt on Pope John-Paul II in May 1981.

All this malicious campaign, as is also openly admitted in the American press, is being carried out with the knowledge and encouragement of the US official bodies. It is being directed and coordinated by the American special services.

We reject in a most categorical way this provocative ploy and the attempts to use a blatant lie in order to cast aspersion on the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.

The very suggestion alleging a possible existence in the socialist countries of certain quarters which can have anything to do with terrorist acts, is fundamentally absurd. It runs counter to the policy and ideology of our society.

The government of the United States of America, undoubtedly, knows that neither Bulgaria, nor the Soviet Union are involved in the actions which some people seek to ascribe to them. No one is in possession of any facts at all with regard to this matter, if one is to speak of nothing but facts and not of the concoctions being fabricated. As to facts, they are simply not in existence. And if, nevertheless, heinous allegations regarding the Soviet Union are continuing, it can be viewed in no other way, but as a deliberate line aimed at exacerbating an atmosphere of animosity in the relationship between our countries. The Soviet side, of course, will draw appropriate conclusions therefrom.

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Absolutely inadmissable are offensive personal invectives allowed in the USA lately regarding the Soviet leadership. It is perfectly clear that this constitutes a gross contradiction of both the requirements of elementary ethics and the commonly accepted norms of intercourse among states maintaining diplomatic relations with one another.

The Soviet side lodges a resolute protest with the US government in this regard and indignantly declines the insinuations of that sort.

It is well known that, on our part, we, so far, have been exercising restraint in this respect. However, it should be clear that there must be a limit to everything. If, on the US part, no effective measures are taken to cease invectives regarding the Soviet leadership, we will consider ourselves free to act accordingly.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (12/20/1982–12/21/1982). Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “WPC has seen.” Attached but not printed is a December 23 memorandum from Bremer to Clark, under cover of which he sent the Soviet paper printed as an attachment below.
  2. Reports about potential Soviet involvement in the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II arose following a question Pipes received in a December 17 interview recorded for CNN, the substance of which leaked that day. “I responded that given the virtually certain participation of the Bulgarian secret services, which the KGB controlled, it was not implausible to assume that the KGB had had a hand in it, although there was no hard evidence to this effect,” recalled Pipes, who had given the interview with the understanding that it would be aired after his departure from the administration at the end of that week, upon the conclusion of his 2-year sabbatical from Harvard. (Pipes, Vixi, p. 205)
  3. Secret. A typewritten note at the top of the memorandum reads: “Unofficial translation.”