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

512/Depto 10031.


  • Deputy Secretary Whitehead’s Meeting With Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Lyuben Gotsev February 4, 1987.
Confidential—Entire text.
Summary: Deputy Secretary of State Whitehead began two days of meetings with Bulgarian CP and government officials February 4 with a call on Deputy Foreign Minister Lyuben Gotsev. The two exchanged views on the state of bilateral relations and discussed contrasting concepts of human rights. Secretary Whitehead expressed strong concern over Bulgaria’s treatment of ethnic Turks and its implication in the flow of weapons to terrorists. Gotsev called for a meeting between Secretary of State Shultz and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Petur Mladenov at the next UNGA and for the establishment of a working group to draft a joint plan of action for expanding bilateral relations. He complained that there had been no USG response to his earlier proposal to Assistant Secretary of State Rozanne Ridgway for the establishment of bilateral working groups on humanitarian-consular and legal-technical matters. End summary.
Deputy Secretary of State Whitehead met with Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Lyuben Gotsev February 4 in the first of a two-day series of meetings with party and government officials. Gotsev expressed the GOB’s appreciation that Bulgaria had been included in the Secretary’s itinerary, noting that Whitehead was the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Bulgaria in 45 years. During the 90-minute session, the two leaders discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, focusing on differing perceptions of human rights and areas in which concrete steps might be taken to improve relations.

State of Bilateral Relations

Secretary Whitehead said that U.S.-Bulgarian relations were at a crossroads. In the past they had been neither warm nor close since the two countries had vastly different heritages, concepts of human [Page 1247] freedoms, and political, social, and economic systems. However, in recent months there had been small movement from cool toward warmer relations, he said. While the USG did not expect a dramatic breakthrough in bilateral relations, it did hope that the relationship would continue to develop on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and steady progress toward cooperation in areas of overlapping interest.
Gotsev concurred with Secretary Whitehead’s general assessment. However, he contended that better relations depended much more on the U.S. than on Bulgaria, and referred to the vast difference in size of the two countries. He said the GOB, too, had noted some movement toward less chilly relations since the acquittal of Bulgarians implicated in the attempted assassination of the Pope. However, he continued, the GOB evaluated that progress in the context of different priorities from those of the U.S. Gotsev noted that while relations with the U.S. conferred certain “privileges”, they also imposed certain problems and burdens as well. He chided the U.S. for sometimes “dreaming of having its dream” accepted in other parts of the world.

Human Rights

Secretary Whitehead explained that because the U.S. was a land of immigrants, many of whom had fled political and economic oppression, it was acutely aware that restrictions on human freedoms were a threat to peace and political stability. Therefore, concern for human rights was a major element in U.S. foreign policy. The USG, he said, felt that citizens should be free to travel, to leave their country and return, to criticize their government, to have access to a free press, and to participate in free elections. He noted that while the U.S. had no right to impose its concept of freedom on other sovereign countries, it naturally tended to have better relations with countries holding to similar concepts of freedom.
Continuing, the Secretary said the USG could not accept the GOB’s effort to force the cultural assimilation of ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria. He noted that based on what representatives of the USG had seen, heard and read in reports of various world bodies, it believed that what was happening in Bulgaria was a violation of the Helsinki Accords.
Gotsev countered with a thumbnail sketch of Bulgaria’s 1,300-year history, emphasizing the country’s location at a geographic crossroads and involvement in a succession of wars and revolutions. He bristled at what he described as the typical Western view of communist countries as closed, oppressive societies, stating that Bulgaria liked to think of itself as a free country also. He claimed that the Bulgarian constitution went even beyond the U.S. constitution in guaranteeing what Bulgarians considered basic freedoms. In any event, said Gotsev, [Page 1248] it would serve no useful purpose to try to convince each other which system is better. Rather, history would be the best judge.

Areas for Possible Cooperation

Both sides presented specific suggestions for improving bilateral relations. Secretary Whitehead applauded the GOB’s efforts in uniting divided families and expressed the hope that the remaining cases could be settled promptly. Gotsev noted that 54 of 64 cases had been resolved during Ambassador Levitsky’s tenure and suggested that the question of divided families need not be included in the agendae of any future high-level bilateral meetings since the Bulgarian side is dealing with such cases as they arise and resolving most of them.
Secretary Whitehead expressed appreciation for GOB cooperation in area of narcotics control. He suggested that the two governments expand their efforts to better understand and control the problem and proposed further exchanges on the control of precursor chemicals, drug addiction, and rehabilitation techniques. The Secretary suggested a program for training Bulgarians on how the U.S. enforces its drug laws and deals with the problem internationally.
Gotsev expressed interest in Whitehead’s proposals on narcotics cooperation and said he would pass the Secretary’s proposals on to the appropriate officials for further consideration. However, he noted that narcotics was a “very sensitive area” and warned that “blunt interference” could jeopardize the continuation of collaborative efforts.
Secretary Whitehead expressed the USG’s serious concern over the recent increase in incidents of terrorism. He said that while terrorism had political roots in some cases, it was basically a nonpolitical question. The USG position, he explained, was that no one had the right to commit random acts of violence against others. He said the USG had strong reason to believe that Bulgarian-made weapons had fallen into the hands of terrorists and urged the GOB to introduce stricter controls on the use and transfer of weapons sold to other governments.
With respect to GOB restrictions on travel by U.S. and other diplomats, Secretary Whitehead advised Gotsev of legislation which will require the Department of State to report any such restrictions to the Congress by March 1. The Secretary urged the GOB to review its policy on diplomatic travel and warned that absent elimination or reduction of such restrictions, the USG would likely be compelled to take reciprocal action.
Finally, Secretary Whitehead urged the GOB to broaden Embassy access to Bulgarian Government officials, not just at the Chief-of-Mission level, but at the working level as well; to take steps to reduce the level of anti-American rhetoric in the Bulgarian media; and to work [Page 1249] with the USG in exploring ways to expand bilateral trade. He acknowledged the removal of temporary barriers in front of the Embassy last fall as another example of recent actions contributing to improved relations.
Gotsev cited the visit of a group of Bulgarian parliamentarians to the U.S. in 1986 and the visit to Bulgaria of Assistant Secretary Rozanne Ridgway as examples of progress in bilateral relations and called for more such exchanges. He proposed a meeting between Secretary of State Shultz and Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Petur Mladenov at the 1987 UNGA in New York, regular political consultations at the Deputy Minister level, and the formation of a working group to draft a joint plan of action for expanding bilateral relations. He also said the Bulgarians would like to see more extensive contacts between their National Assembly and both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Gotsev noted the recent signing of a bilateral cultural exchange agreement and the revival of the Bulgarian-American Economic and Trade Council as two more examples of progress toward better relations. However, he complained that the USG had not provided official stimulation for the bilateral Trade Council, adding that the initiative needed and deserved government encouragement. He reported that a Bulgarian delegation would travel to the U.S. to meet with government officials and businessmen to explore opportunities for expanded trade. That group could be headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Lukanov. The mission, he said, would also seek support for Bulgaria’s bid for full membership in the GATT.
Gotsev expressed disappointment that there had been no USG response to his proposals to Assistant Secretary Ridgway for the establishment of bilateral working groups on humanitarian-consular affairs and legal-technical matters.
Finally Gotsev proposed that the two sides agree to meet to draw up a draft joint plan of action for a work program aimed at improving bilateral relations. He said that the existence of an agreed document could provide a stimulus to movement on individual issues.
Comment: Gotsev did not respond directly to the Deputy Secretary’s strong comments on human rights nor to his concern over Bulgarian treatment of ethnic Turks. He expressed impatience with the pace of development in bilateral relations which at this stage, he said, could not be excellent but could be good. He expressed frustration over the USG’s failure to take up various Bulgarian proposals for improving relations. Gotsev downplayed areas of progress cited by the Deputy Secretary and complained that even these minor accomplishments received no mention in the American press. End comment.
  1. Source: Department of State, Official Correspondence of Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead, July 1982–January 1989, Lot 89 D 139, JCW’s Eastern Europe Trip 1/27–2/7/87 Memcons. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to Eastern European posts. Drafted in the Embassy; cleared in EUR, D, and the NSC; approved by Grossman.