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

513/Depto 10032.


  • Deputy Secretary Whitehead’s Meeting With Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mladenov.
Confidential—Entire text.
Summary. Deputy Secretary Whitehead and party met February 4 with Foreign Minister Petur Mladenov and other Foreign Ministry officials. With bilateral relations having been addressed in a previous meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Gotsev,2 the Mladenov meeting focused primarily on East-West issues, although the Foreign Minister commented as well on Bulgaria’s “demonstrated” readiness to cultivate “good and normal” bilateral relations with the U.S. The Deputy Secretary outlined the current status of US-USSR relations, addressing arms control issues, regional problems, and human rights questions. Mladenov said that Bulgaria welcomed the progress made in US-Soviet relations in recent years and stressed the superpowers’ obligation to reach arms agreements. He avoided comment on the merits of various regional issues, saying that the important point was finding means for their peaceful resolution. His focus throughout appeared to be on sustaining a non-confrontational atmosphere in which US-Bulgarian dialogue might continue. End summary.
Deputy Secretary Whitehead met February 4 with Foreign Minister Mladenov for discussions that focused primarily on East-West relations. Also present on the Bulgarian side were Deputy Foreign Minister Gotsev, MFA Counselor (and session interpreter) Poptodorova, Fourth Department Director Pchelintsev and Deputy Director Popova, and U.S. Desk Officers Popov, Novachkov, and Pavlov. Accompanying the Deputy Secretary were the Ambassador, Wenick, Dobriansky, Bruns, and an Embassy notetaker. After the initial discussion of slightly over an hour in this larger group, Mladenov (with Gotsev and Poptodorova) invited the Deputy Secretary and the Ambassador to his private office for additional discussions (septel).3
After initial pleasantries on both sides, the Deputy Secretary stated that, given the “stiff” nature of the bilateral relationship in the past, the effort to move toward more normal relations had to start virtually from the beginning. The USG was interested in such an improvement, but it would have to come gradually, through a step-by-step process. The conversations begun earlier that morning with Deputy Foreign Minister Gotsev had addressed a number of bilateral issues and would be continued later (septel).4 The Deputy Secretary proposed that he and the Foreign Minister focus on East-West and other international issues. Mladenov agreed.
US-Soviet Relations. The Deputy Secretary began by noting the improvement in the last two years in US-Soviet relations. Dialogue now took place in a large variety of areas, a development the USG welcomed, although there were naturally “ups and downs” in that dialogue. The USG was optimistic about the chances of achieving an arms control agreement in the coming months. While our long-term objective was to eliminate nuclear weapons completely, a more practical short term objective was to reduce ICBM stockpiles by 50 percent, eliminate intermediate-range missiles from Europe while leaving 100 each in Asia and the US, continue SDI research within the limits of the ABM Treaty, agree to phase out nuclear testing, and find agreement on means of verification. Such an agreement was attainable, although many details remained to be worked out.
Arms control did not exist, the Deputy Secretary continued, in isolation from other areas of contention: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet and Cuban activities in Angola and elsewhere in Africa, problems in Nicaragua and other Central American countries, Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, and the like. So long as Soviet aggression and the use of Soviet troops or proxies continued to threaten world peace, it would be difficult for the USG to envisage genuine disarmament. We thus hoped the Soviets would modify their actions, especially in Afghanistan, where we looked forward to a withdrawal of Soviet troops.
Human rights formed another important part of the USG agenda with the USSR, the Deputy Secretary stated. We were particularly concerned about Soviet treatment of dissidents, about Soviet Jews who wanted to leave for Israel, and about divided families. Our discussions with the Soviets thus included a number of areas of continuing disagreement, but good-faith negotiations were underway with them that promised to benefit both sides, and the rest of the world.
Mladenov responded that he welcomed the USG perception of improved relations with the Soviet Union, which accorded with the information that Bulgaria received from Moscow. The focus of this improvement, he understood, was in the arms control area. Bulgaria was pleased with this progress, which is of critical importance, although Bulgaria itself had no nuclear weapons and would not permit “either side” to station nuclear weapons on Bulgarian territory.
Bulgaria had been very interested in the Reykjavik Summit,5 Mladenov continued, as it had aroused worldwide hopes that a formula had been found for movement toward a real reduction in nuclear weapons. Bulgaria was a small country and could not presume to give instructions to the superpowers, but both superpowers are obligated to find a resolution to this problem. Bulgaria was against the militarization of outer space, and it condemned the February 3 U.S. nuclear test in Nevada,6 which would force the USSR to resume its own testing.
Bulgarian officials met often with their Soviet counterparts and discussed such issues. Mladenov assured the Deputy Secretary that the Soviets were sincerely interested in keeping the peace and finding arms control formulas acceptable to both sides. That was firm Soviet policy and would continue into the next U.S. administration, if an agreement could not be reached with the present one.
Mladenov added parenthetically that Bulgaria also attached importance to the elimination of other weapons—conventional, chemical, and so forth. It also favored further development of the CSCE process and building on the results of the Stockholm meeting.7
Turning to the Deputy Secretary’s reference to regional problems, Mladenov agreed that the world was so interconnected that non-resolution of one question could block progress on others. He did not want to discuss these issues, as it was clear that Bulgaria differed with the U.S. in ascribing responsibility for the problems of Afghanistan, Angola, Central America, and the Middle East. He remarked that one could add the Iran-Iraq war to that list, but he did not want to start a discussion on that, as he knew it was a “sensitive issue” for the U.S. administration. The point was not to present Bulgaria’s views on those areas, but rather to understand that a long-term, peaceful solution to those problems had to be found. No major international question today can be solved without the participation of the Soviet Union. That is true not only of today, but of the future. In fifteen or twenty years there will [Page 1253] still be problems, although perhaps not the same problems, and they will have to be resolved through dialogue and negotiations, not threats and interference.
Bulgarian-Soviet Relations. In response to the Deputy Secretary’s invitation to give his views on Bulgarian-Soviet relations, Mladenov said only that Bulgaria had a “very good” relationship with the USSR and he expected it to continue.
Change in the USSR. Mladenov stressed, in response to a question from the Deputy Secretary, that the changes underway in the Soviet Union are profound and will have positive results for the socialist system and the rest of the world. He acknowledged that there had been a time when the socialist countries were on the defensive and were afraid to speak, for example, of human rights. That situation was unnatural, as socialism had been created for the good of man and lost its content when it did not serve man.
Mladenov continued his thoughts on the Soviet Union with an anecdote about his visit to a Soviet art exhibit in Paris while he was en route back from his heart operation in Houston last year. Paintings by Chagall, Kandinsky, and other artists were on display that had been created in Soviet Russia under Lenin—and that constituted peaks of modern art—but that were then put into warehouses during the “Stalinist winter” that followed. The West had to think about the possibilities of a Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s leadership.
Gorbachev and his team, Mladenov concluded, are “intelligent, honest, dynamic, and businesslike people with whom you can deal and with whom you’ll have to deal. The future is theirs.”
US-Bulgarian Relations. Although the focus of the meeting was on US-Soviet relations, Mladenov found occasion to comment on the US-Bulgarian relationship as well. Bulgaria never has been in the center of U.S. attention, he began, adding that Bulgaria had for its part not shown sufficient interest in the U.S. before WWII. It had unfortunately inclined toward European powers and consequently suffered a “disaster” that would have been averted if it had been allied with the U.S.
After WWII, he continued, Bulgaria’s relations with the U.S. were conditioned by the larger East-West relationship, but Bulgaria had always wanted to develop good and normal relations with the U.S. Mladenov argued that the U.S. had never put forth a bilateral issue that had not received favorable consideration, citing improved reception for VOA, divided families, and permission for U.S. military aircraft to bring supplies to the Embassy periodically. So far as he could see, the U.S. had fewer problems with Bulgaria than with Greece, Turkey, or the EEC countries. Bulgaria was prepared to work on the terrorism issue and find a solution. Given Bulgaria’s good will, the prospects for a “good and normal” relationship depend mostly on the U.S.
Insofar as Mladenov could understand the negative USG attitude toward Bulgaria, it was caused by ideology. Politics could not, of course, be divorced from ideology, but it should not be allowed to prevent normal relations (trade, relations between people, etc.).
Mladenov’s Health and U.S. Treatment. Mladenov, who appeared to be in good health, made reference several times to his heart surgery last year in Houston and stressed that he had been impressed not only with U.S. medical technology, but also with the personal kindness and interest displayed by the Americans he had met. It had confirmed him in the belief that Americans were a “good people,” as were the Bulgarians, and that problems between the two peoples were the results of decisions made by “people like us in this room.”
  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 the Embassy, EUR, and D; approved by Grossman.
  2. See Document 389.
  3. See Document 388.
  4. Telegram 537 from Sofia, February 5, reported on Gotsev and Whitehead’s follow-up meeting on February 5 during which they discussed the possibilities of future bilateral meetings. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870092–0695)
  5. See footnote 3, Document 147.
  6. See Jeffrey Smith, “Thwarting Protestors, U.S. Conducts Nuclear Test in Nevada a Day Early,” Washington Post, February 4, 1987, p. A10.
  7. See footnote 6, Document 147.