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



  • US-Bulgarian Relations—Status Report and a Look Ahead.
(C)—Entire text
Summary: The past eight months or so have shown a marked improvement in the atmospherics, accompanied by more modest changes in substantive areas, of our relationship with Bulgaria. The Bulgarians have used the visits of Assistant Secretary Ridgway,2 the Deputy Secretary3 and Codel Lantos4 to highlight their professed desire for better relations. At the same time, the Bulgarian agenda, which centers on what might be called psychological/political and economic goals, has become clearer. In short, the GOB is seeking political acceptance and respect, coupled with progress on a range of economic and trade issues that are important to it. The Bulgarians appear to hope that by taking steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and to meet a number of our non-substantive concerns, they will get the U.S. to agree to make positive moves in areas of importance to the GOB. However, major barriers to greatly improved relations remain, such as Bulgaria’s slavishly close adherence to the Soviet Union, continued serious human rights violations, direct and/or indirect support for terrorism, and illegal diversions of U.S. technology and must not be overlooked. Nevertheless, the steps the Bulgarians have taken thus far provide opportunities, which we should continue to explore carefully for pursuing our bilateral agenda and advancing U.S. interests. This report is submitted in partial fulfilment of the post reporting plan. End summary.
Since September 1986, when the authorities finally removed the “anti-terrorist” barriers with which they unilaterally had surrounded and isolated our chancery for ten months, the GOB has taken a number of steps to bring about a marked improvement in the atmospherics of our bilateral relations. That improvement has been accompanied so far by considerably more modest progress on substantive issues of concern to the U.S. The visits to Sofia of Assistant Secretary Ridgway [Page 1264] (11/86), Deputy Secretary Whitehead (2/87), and Codel Lantos (4/87), plus the departure on transfer of Ambassador Levitsky (2/87), all provided the Bulgarians excellent opportunities for rolling out the red carpet and making a pitch, in two cases by Zhivkov himself, for the enhanced relations they so obviously desire. From the U.S. standpoint, the high-level visits provided tangible evidence of our continuing interest in making progress on the practical issues we consider important.
In judging the nature and extent of the changes in Bulgaria’s approach to its relations with the U.S. since last September, the following selective summary of events and developments may be instructive:
FM Mladenov indicated to the DepSec for the first time the GOB’s willingness to discuss the terrorism issue and to consider measures such as imposing sanctions against those who transferred Bulgarian-provided arms to terrorists.
First Deputy PM Lukanov and other GOB officials have said they agreed to take our technology diversion concerns seriously and have held out the possibility of steps such as plant visits for end-user checks.
Bulgarian leaders (e.g. Zhivkov, Lukanov, Mladenov, Todorov) all have stated to us and to recent USG visitors that bilateral relations are improving, a trend which they have said they welcomed and wanted to see expanded.
President Reagan’s message to a Writers Congress5 was published on the front page of the party daily. Bulgarian TV has shown interviews with Assistant Secretary Ridgway and Codel Lantos, and “Pogled” published a long interview with Ambassador Levitsky.6 These are the most significant but not the only instances in recent months in which U.S. officials have been able—for the first time in memory—to get their views across directly to the Bulgarian people.
The Bulgarians have permitted somewhat improved access by the Embassy’s working-level officers to government officials and the heads of economic enterprises. Ambassador Levitsky was granted promptly all the farewell calls he requested on GOB officials, in marked contrast to his experience with his introductory calls.
There has been steady, if slow and relatively limited, progress on bilateral narcotics cooperation, something to which the Bulgarians say they are committed.
While some problems remain, the Bulgarians have been quicker and more responsive, on the whole, than before in resolving the cases on our small divided families/family visitation list.
The GOB responded in a low-key and virtually pro forma manner to the innocent passage of two U.S. Navy ships through Bulgarian-claimed waters in February, 1987. In the past, they have protested such “violations” promptly in strong and aggressive terms.
Codel Lantos received confirmation of all their requested appointments including the one with Zhivkov, more than a month before their arrival (appointments with Zhivkov normally are not made firm until shortly before the event). All six of the Bulgarians invited (including two deputy ministers) to the Charge’s luncheon for the Codel accepted and repeat and came.
Mladenov appeared to go out of his way to demonstrate goodwill toward the U.S. through the farewell luncheon he hosted for Ambassador Levitsky. Unusually for such occasions, wives (including Mrs. Mladenova, whom Ambassador Levitsky had never even met before) were invited and attended.
Agrement for Ambassador Polansky was granted by the Bulgarians in record time (well under 24 hours). The Chief of Protocol said that the reason for this unprecedentedly fast action was the improving state of our bilateral relations.
A film showing on alternate energy technologies in the Embassy’s press and culture section, hosted by the Econ/Commercial Officer, was attended by at least one representative from each Bulgarian organization invited (20 people). A year ago no one would have showed up for such an occasion.
Clearly as a result of USG pressure, the GOB has announced fairly sizable reductions as of May 1 in the border and coastal areas closed to diplomatic travel (the permanently restricted area or PRA). That those changes are less extensive than we had hoped and even represent a step backward in some areas does not detract from the fact that the PRA is smaller now and more of Bulgaria overall is open to diplomatic travel than has been the case in many years.
Since the removal of the “anti-terrorist” barriers, the number of Bulgarians visiting the USIA “library” has gone from zero to an average of 1250 per week. As a consequence, the “library’s” successful book and video cassette lending programs have resumed and grown, while the number of USIA publications distributed (such as “Spektur”) has also increased dramatically. In addition, people are now free again to look at the Embassy window display, which they do in large numbers. These positive changes have been marked by only occasional and not very strong GOB interference.
In presenting the foregoing selective summary, we fully recognize that the majority of the positive changes are symbolic, of low-cost to the Bulgarians and easily reversible. Moreover, it is not yet clear how far the GOB may be willing to go toward meeting our concerns on the substantive issues of greatest importance to us, such as support for terrorism, technology diversion and narcotics control. Bulgarian intentions in those and related areas remain to be tested. Furthermore, there are issues of concern to us where there has been no progress or where the returns thus far are ambiguous. These include media coverage of the U.S., which is overwhelmingly anti-American and in which there have been no improvements yet (beyond those noted above), Zhivkov’s personal promises to the contrary notwithstanding; meeting our desire for a good, new chancery site; working out acceptable financial and other arrangements for our “Design in America” exhibit; and a host of relatively mundane administrative and consular matters. Despite the fact that the record is mixed, however, and that important question marks remain, it is undeniable that our bilateral relations are significantly more constructive today than they were a year ago and that U.S. interests have been well served overall by the changes that have occurred.
The Bulgarians, of course, also have their own agenda, the outlines of which have become increasingly clear since last September. That agenda has two main categories—what may be called the psychological/political and the economic. In the first category, it is apparent that the Bulgarians’ need for acceptance and respect—to be treated as equals—is a driving force in their policies towards the U.S. (and other Western countries). The evidence of this need comes through in many of Bulgaria’s desiderata—the strong desire for high-level visits and meetings (American visitors to Sofia invariably are reminded that no U.S. Secretary of State has ever met “officially” with a Bulgarian Foreign Minister), the push for formalized bilateral “political consultations,” and proposals for “working groups” to consider different areas where bilateral problems exist and for the creation of agreed bilateral agendas. Bulgaria’s economic priorities are admission into the GATT, MFN, expanded exports to the U.S., increased imports of higher-technology American products, more joint ventures with U.S. firms, official USG support for the private sector U.S.-Bulgarian Economic and Trade Council, expanded U.S. representation at the Plovdiv fairs (fall and spring) and more tourism from the U.S.
As best we can tell, the GOB’s current strategy in dealing with us is to concentrate primarily on the atmospheric elements of the relationship where we are concerned, while seeking significant substantive gains for themselves, especially in the economic sphere. They seem to hope that by treating us better in many respects than before, [Page 1267] they will eventually get us to the point where we will be prepared to make some genuine concessions in areas that are important to them. While we welcome the improvements that have occurred in our bilateral relations over the past months, we should, of course, continue to resist any temptation to give something for nothing or to overlook Bulgaria’s slavishly close adherence to the Soviet Union, continued serious human rights violations, direct and/or indirect support for terrorism, illegal diversions of U.S. technology, etc. As in the past, we should continue to make clear to the GOB that we do not consider improved relations to be a goal in itself but rather the result of finding solutions to concrete problems of concern to us. The series of cables we submitted after the Deputy Secretary’s visit in February (Sofia 689,7 702,8 703,9 863,10 867,11 and 86812) spell out in greater detail our specific recommendation for advancing our agenda and dealing with that of the GOB. Our new Ambassador’s arrival in Sofia should provide good opportunities to gauge the extent of GOB willingness to resolve the issues that can lead to the genuinely improved relations they claim to desire.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870622–0443. Confidential. Sent for information to Eastern European posts and Brussels.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 386.
  3. See Documents 388392.
  4. Representative Tom Lantos (D–California) led a congressional delegation to Bulgaria April 15–16.
  5. Not found.
  6. Not found.
  7. Telegram 689 from Sofia, February 13, suggested that Mladenov’s response to the démarche on terrorism allowed for a continuation of the discussion about terrorism. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870116–0523)
  8. Telegram 702 from Sofia, February 17, reported Embassy recommendations for follow-up actions in the wake of Whitehead’s discussions with Bulgarian leaders. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870122–0346)
  9. Telegram 703 from Sofia, February 17, reported on furthering the discussions with Bulgaria regarding technology transfer and specifically end-user checks. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870123–0404)
  10. Telegram 863 from Sofia, February 25, made recommendations for how to continue and facilitate U.S.-Bulgaria drug cooperation. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870147–0135)
  11. Telegram 867 from Sofia, February 26, provided comments on the revision of the National Human Intelligence Plan on Terrorism. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870155–0515)
  12. Telegram 868 from Sofia, February 26, commented on Bulgaria’s willingness to pursue bilateral relations with the United States, but only on Bulgaria’s terms. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D870151–0119)