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



  • Prospects for U.S.-Bulgarian Relations.


  • Sofia 2606.2
Summary: In DepFonMin Gotsev’s August 2 meeting with Charge Lake,3 the GOB finally responded to U.S. concerns on the issue which has loomed largest in our bilateral relations over the last two years. This action reflects another round in a continuing internal debate within Bulgaria. The GOB expects us to use the information provided to support the appointment of a new ambassador and to move the fragile bilateral relationship ahead.4 Bulgaria does not loom large in our interests, but its importance lies within the context of our overall policy of encouraging centrifugal forces in Eastern Europe to put pressure on Moscow. Though our interests are minimal, we should move ahead to serve them. While emphasizing the limitations on our relationship, we should confirm dates for Gotsev’s visit to Washington and invite the Bulgarians to put forward their own practical agenda for improving relations, responding with our own agenda. We should also seek through the intelligence community to ascertain whether Bulgaria continues to engage in the narcotics trade. End summary.


To understand the Bulgarians’ unexpected August 2 response to two years of USG pressure on the narcotics issue requires an appreciation of what has been happening within Bulgaria over the last year. Despite Zhivkov’s August 1, 1983 meeting with Ambassador Barry,5 which [Page 1201] heralded a new approach to the U.S. and fitful attempts over the last year to improve the bilateral relationship, there remains a strong group within the power structure opposed to any such effort. This opposition coupled with the inefficiency, incompetence and inertia of a communist bureaucracy has defeated or delayed positive moves on the Bulgarian side. Yet the argument went on with Zhivkov himself the strongest supporter of the new line and those opposed reluctant to force any given issue up to his review. Thus we witnessed delayed responses to our request; with surprising last-minute decisions to respond positively.
Ambassador Barry’s departure without a successor being named coincided with fresh publicity on the Antonov affair and a new element—congressional action—which, at a minimum has hurt Bulgaria’s image, finally forced the most prominent issue to Zhivkov’s attention. As we have reported, we believe that the GOB has conducted a review of its relations with the U.S. in recent weeks and sought signals from us during the present confused situation. When we came forward with our request for agrement for a new ambassador, the question of the U.S. relationship had to be faced with the narcotics issue as a key element. Zhivkov acted in the same decisive manner he recounted to Ambassador Barry on August 1 of last year. Agrement was granted in record time and we received the first concrete response to our main point of contention with the Bulgarians over the past three years.
The GOB has not given up anything important. Foreign smugglers engaged in an increasingly unprofitable enterprise, from the perspective of publicity if not finance, were clearly expendable. Kintex will make arms deals and attempt to acquire embargoed technology, but only time will tell whether Zhivkov’s action will affect its involvement in the narcotics trade—the GOB will never admit it. In addition, those who oppose dealing with the U.S. are undoubtedly as strong as before—they only lost a battle.
What, then, is driving the Bulgarian desire for an opening to the United States? We cannot be sure, but the following factors are involved. As the dean of the Warsaw Pact leaders (in terms of service), Zhivkov wants to be heard. He believes his “trumpet of doom” oratory, and as an aging leader, seeks to preserve his place in history and the gains of his tenure for future generations. Concomitantly, Bulgaria recognizes it needs an opening to the West to preserve the economic strides of the last 40 years, and move ahead during the last decades of the twentieth century. Less obvious are the subtle and mystifying problems in the evolving relationship with the Soviet Union—which we have seen reflected in increasing economic strains.

What Now?

In the end, for whatever reasons, Bulgaria is offering us an opportunity to build on the weak foundation in our relationship created [Page 1202] over the last year. We can expect a continued dribble of resolutions to divided family cases (three during the last month), and a willingness to listen to our views on disarmament issues. Encouraging the GOB may contribute to the centrifugal forces at work within the NSWP. Bulgarian policy makers must be enviously eyeing the profitable economic relationships that its northern NSWP allies enjoy (GDR’s inner-German ties, Hungary’s IMF status, etc.). Lukanov recently observed to a senior foreign visitor that one of the fundamental issues not resolved at the Moscow CEMA summit was whether the East should turn inward or continue to develop economic ties with the West. He predicted that the issue must be resolved in the near future. By responding to Bulgaria now, we offer the prospect for improved economic access, reinforcing CEMA tendencies to look to the West. Finally, we may exercise pressure on Moscow with the spectacle and contradictions of its most loyal satellite settling differences with the U.S.

How Do We Respond?—Narcotics

If the above objectives meet our needs, where do we go from here?
Respond to the GOB’s action with private acknowledgment that they have taken a significant step, and citing it in public when appropriate as a first step;
With his arrival, our new ambassador should acknowledge what has transpired, but emphasize our continued concern about the issue;
Focus our concern at the working level, keying it to factual information as it develops;
Charge the intelligence community with ascertaining whether Bulgaria, and Kintex in particular, continues to engage in narcotics trade.

Other Issues

—Respond to Gotsev’s desire to have consultations in Washington in October, saying that we want the GOB to develop its agenda of issues which we can address to improve relations.
Define our own agenda of what we want from Bulgaria;
The new ambassador should after arriving, echo the theme that we are interested in the Bulgarian agenda and are prepared to present our agenda in discussions with Gotsev in October, emphasizing that there are fundamental disagreements limiting our relationship.


We must recognize that the relationship is at best fragile. Many within the government and party are opposed to moving ahead.

They will continue to seek ways to thwart its development. Events beyond our control will also affect the relationship—pressure from [Page 1203] Moscow, developments in the Antonov case, opposition with the GOB, etc. Within the context of our overall interests in Eastern Europe, the effort appears worth it.

The next move is up to us.

  1. Source: Department of State, Ambassador Robie Mark Palmer’s Files, 1972–1985, Lot 87 D 177, Bulgaria 1984. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. In telegram 2606 from Sofia, July 11, Barry reported his thoughts on bilateral U.S.-Bulgarian relations. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D840446–0846)
  3. Telegram 2991 from Sofia, August 9, summarized the meeting between Lake and Gotsev. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D840508–0257)
  4. No memorandum of conversation for this meeting was found.
  5. No memorandum of conversation for this meeting was found.