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



  • Call on Bulgarian Prime Minister Grisha Filipov; U.S.-Bulgarian Relations.


  • A) State 8674,2
  • B) Sofia 0209,3
  • C) Sofia 0085.4
C—Entire text.
Summary: I had a tough exchange on the prospects for U.S.-Bulgarian relations with Prime Minister Grisha Filipov, putting him [Page 1179] on notice that tendentious treatment of U.S. policies by Bulgarian officials and media, Polish situation and failure to resolve divided family cases were obstacles to significant improvements in bilateral relations during the year ahead. I described Zhivkov’s reference to need for a U.S.-Bulgarian trade agreement as unrealistic in light of Bulgarian refusal to comply with provision of U.S. law and anti-American media campaign. Filipov bristled at my presentation and initially excluded any U.S.-Bulgarian cooperation or improvement in relations if U.S. insisted on raising such issues. Once he got over the influence of his own rhetoric, he agreed that modest progress in relations within existing framwork was possible and desirable and that joint efforts in this direction were required. While accepting that MFN was out, he emphasized Bulgaria’s particular interest in expanding trade. Filipov struck me as a dynamic ideologue, whose explanations of Bulgaria’s new economic measures focused more on Marxist-Leninist jargon than pragmatism. End summary.
My January 26 courtesy call on newly-named Prime Minister Grisha Filipov lasted one hour and 40 minutes. With him were Deputy Foreign Minister Lyuben Gotsev and interpreter Elena Poptodorova, who interpreted my formal presentation but not his response.
I used Zhivkov’s published remarks on U.S.-Bulgarian relations (ref B) as a springboard for making the points in ref A. I said that while my government shared Zhivkov’s expressed interest in improved relations, we could not accept implication in his remarks that it was up to us to prove our good will by taking the initiative. I pointed to three issues which represented obstacles to substantial improvement in U.S.-Bulgarian relations: public treatment of U.S. policies by Bulgarian media and officials; failure to resolve divided family cases; and Poland, which cast a cloud over East-West relations. Zhivkov’s statement that the U.S. should sign a trade agreement with Bulgaria as an earnest of its intentions was unrealistic in view of GOB’s refusal to comply with provisions of U.S. law (Jackson-Vanik)5 and Bulgarian media attacks on U.S. which affect climate in Congress. We could, however, work for modest improvements in relations and try to consolidate progress in areas where agreements had been signed (I cited examples from para 5-C and -D of ref C).
Filipov responded with a 40-minute harangue during which he seemed to talk himself into a state of high dudgeon. Stripped to essentials, his response contained following points.
Zhivkov’s public and private statements about wanting improved and expanded relations with the U.S. are principled, not protocolary or [Page 1180] short-term. There are great possibilities for improvements which would contribute to the cause of peace. Initiatives from both sides are required for progress. GOB appreciates assurances of Reagan administration that it desires better bilateral relations, but sees little evidence of any practical consequence.
U.S. complaints about Bulgarian media treatment of U.S. are inconsistent with Bulgarian democratization and American protestations about freedom of the press. Bulgarian journalists are free to have their own opinions and Bulgarian authorities would not interfere with this process to please U.S. (Returning to media issue later, I said I could not imagine that party Ideological Commission could not alter tone of media treatment of U.S. if it wished to do so.)
Concerning Poland, Filipov could not understand my raising the question. What was going on there before December 136 was counter-revolution and chaos. U.S. also used “state measures” against strikers and had no right to dictate to Poles or interfere in their internal affairs. There was no possibility of returning to the pre-December 13 situation in Poland. Bulgaria would not tolerate any attempt to pressure it on Polish question or condition improvement of relations on its outcome. (In return to Polish question later, I stressed our view that the situation there was deteriorating which could lead to outside military intervention with incalcuable consequences for East-West relations. Filipov heatedly denied any such possibility, stessing that the Poles were able to restore order themselves.)
On divided families, both Gotsev and Filipov denied that any such question existed. Filipov claimed that my very raising of the question put me in a delicate position since it was insulting to the Bulgarian people. No kind of compromise on such issues was possible, since it represented an effort to pressure a small country. (I later pointed out that I had been assured that in principle Bulgaria was prepared to solve divided family questions, that Bulgaria discussed such matters with countries such as the FRG and Turkey and that I had presented a list of cases to the MFA.)7
On the issue of a trade agreement and MFN, Filipov remarked heatedly that Bulgaria was not prepared to accept any conditions on the expansion of trade and would not come to the U.S. on its knees to comply with discriminatory U.S. legislation. Bulgaria was interested in expanding trade with the U.S. on the basis of mutual benefit but would not tolerate interference in its internal affairs.
Summing up, Filipov said that if I were to succeed in my tour as Ambassador here, I should put all the questions I had raised aside and not bring them up again. Bulgaria wanted cooperation with the U.S., but would not accept any conditions imposed by the U.S. side.
In response, I said I was not setting pre-conditions for continued cooperation, but pointing out serious U.S. concerns which affected the climate of our relations and specifically limited the possibility of significant improvements. In carrying out my task of improving U.S.-Bulgarian relations, it was my duty to bring these concerns to the attention of senior Bulgarian officials. It would be stupid to attempt to set pre-conditions for continuation of bilateral cooperation. I again went over the points I had raised (see above), stressing the point that these were concerns and not pre-conditions. Filipov welcomed these “clarifications” and while continuing to be inflexible on substance, agreed on the need to build further on the progress already made in bilateral relations and improve implementiation of bilateral agreements. He again stressed Bulgarian interest in bilateral trade and particularly increased sales of Bulgarian goods on U.S. market. Conversation concluded with a discussion of Bulgaria’s new economic mechanism (septel).8
Biographic: Filipov struck me as far more combative and ideological than Zhivkov or the ex-Prime Minister Stanko Todorov. During his responses he worked himself up into something of a rhetorical frenzy with gestures more appropriate to an auditorium than an audience of two. He seemed to enjoy talking about economic matters, but even here his points were more ideological than pragmatic. Evidently his rough edges are not saved for Americans alone, since Deputy Prime Minister Lukanov commented to me at a chance meeting later in the day that Filipov was known for his “lack of concern for protocol.”
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File: Bulgaria 1/22/1981–7/15/1983. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. Sent for information to Belgrade, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Reference telegram number is incorrect.
  3. Telegram 209 from Sofia, January 26, reported that Zhivkov claimed in an interview that the United States was not seeking peace and détente. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D820043–0814)
  4. Telegram 85 from Sofia, January 12, reported to the Department the Embassy’s goals for 1982. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D820018-0195)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 2.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 6.
  7. Not found.
  8. Telegram 229 from Sofia, January 28, reported on Bulgaria’s new economic policy, which was much like the Soviet model. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D820048–0205)