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Digital Archive International History Declassified

April 22, 1980


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    The two leaders talk about recent developments in the Middle East, US-Arab relations, and Soviet support for Arab regimes.
    "Minutes of Conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Hafez Al-Assad, Damascus," April 22, 1980, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 60, File 264. Translated by Assistant Professor Kalina Bratanova; Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev and Kalin Kanchev. Obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group.
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Minutes of Conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Hafez Al-Assad

Damascus, 22 April 1980


Between the First secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party
and Chairman of the State Council of the People's Republic of Bulgaria
Todor Zhivkov
and the Secretary General of the Arab Socialist Party /Ba'th/
and President of the Arab Republic of Syria Hafiz Al-Assad [1],

The talks were attended by:
From the Bulgarian side: Petar Mladenov [2] , CC BCP Politburo member and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Andrey Lukanov[3] , CC BCP associate-member and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers; Milko Balev[4] , CC BCP Secretary and Chief of comrade T. Zhivkov's office; Vassil Tzanov[5] , CC BCP member and Chairman of the National Agrarian Industrial Union; George Pavlov, CC BCP member and Chairman of the Bulgarian part of the Joint Bulgarian–Syrian Commission for Economic and Technical Cooperation; and Stefan Mitev, Ambassador of the PR Bulgaria to Syria.

From the Syrian side:
Dr. Abdul Rauf al-Kasm[6] , member of the leadership of the Arab Socialist Party Ba'th and Chairman of the Council of Ministers; Abdul-Halim Khaddam[7] , member of the ASP Ba'th leadership, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Walil Hamdun, member of the ASP Ba'th leadership and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers for Services; Abdul Kadir Kadura, member of the ASP leadership and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers for Economic Development; Abdul Kerim Ady, Minister of Presidency Affairs; Dr. Selim Iassin, State Minister for Planning; Dr. Mohamed al-Atrash, Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade; Dr. Abdul Djabar ad-Dahak, Minister of Oil and Natural Resources; Dr. Hamid Musaukar, Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform; and Abdul Razak Shaker, Ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic to Bulgaria.

I am very happy to welcome my friend and comrade Todor Zhivkov and the other members of the delegation. Of course, this is not our first meeting; we have already met many times and know each other very well. The leaders of the Arab Socialist Party Ba'th, the State leadership, and I personally feel deep respect for the President, comrade T. Zhivkov; hence the natural feeling of happiness and satisfaction whenever we meet our dear friend. Certainly, the feelings of personal sympathy that developed through our common struggle contributes to the positive development of our relations. You and I are in the same trench in the struggle against imperialism and Zionism. Since our common struggle will not be over soon, we must meet each other frequently. Now when the imperialists are trying to unite their forces in the struggle against us, we must consolidate our strengths in order to oppose them successfully. This is particularly important today, as the sneaking ambitions of imperialism have become extremely malicious. The consolidation of our strengths has become even more necessary as a result of the current complications of the international situation and the escalation of tension, which can be defined as the next step in the Cold war. As comrade T. Zhivkov pointed out in our talks yesterday, we share the same feeling of anxiety, not fear. Justice, the main source of our strength, is on our side. We have no doubts as for the outcome of this struggle.

We highly appreciate T. Zhivkov's personal position and the position of the PR of Bulgaria with regard to our struggle. These feelings are also shared by our people. Therefore we, the State and Party leaders as representatives of our people, feel responsibility to work for intensification of our bilateral relations. We are willing to use all possible channels on all levels to discuss and adopt new initiatives that could contribute to this goal. We have pointed out many times that we have not yet used all possible opportunities to further develop of our relations.

As we mentioned yesterday, our meetings should become more frequent. Now I suggest that our discussion be short, in order to provide our colleagues with the opportunity to examine all possibilities for the widening the scope of our cooperation.

I would like to say just a few words about the situation in the Arab world, in our region. And then, if you have something to add, comrade Zhivkov, we will give you this opportunity.

Ever since the separatist agreements from Camp David with the so-called Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, we have been trying to settle the existing differences in the Arab world. For that purpose, we held a Summit conference where we formulated a common position against the separatist agreements. Undoubtedly, this was a victory for us. It was a victory for the Arab cause.

On the other hand, our united stance contributes to the ruining of the plans of Sadat, the US and Zionism. Even now we are trying to keep the line of this strategic policy. However, as our Bulgarian friends probably know, the position agreed upon at the conference is not stable and strong. It does not rest on solid grounds. First, the instability can be explained by the traditional US-Arab relations. Another reason is the US policy that targets our peoples' regimes. The USA has been pursuing two parallel strategies. On the one hand, they are trying to use their traditional relations with the Arab countries. On the other, they are trying to stir conflicts and intrigue between the Arab regimes, which will allow them to act from a position of power. Pursuing these two parallel lines they are successfully shaking the determination of certain circles in the Arab world. Therefore, our main task now is to strengthen the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front[8] . We believe that the support of this position by all members of the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front, will contribute to preservation of the basic agreements from the Summit conference of the Arab states.

The last meeting of the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front was held within that context. We believe that the Front has the necessary potential for implementation of the adopted measures, despite the recently published reports for contradictions between the Arab countries. We consider the measures adopted by the Front a response to the negative reports and a sign of our determination to continue the struggle.

It has been generally acknowledged that our country has become a target of a broad conspiracy. Syria is blamed to be the main source of today's problems and a major obstacle to the implementation of the US plans. The imperialists presume that the subjugation of the Arab Republic of Syria will create the most favorable conditions for their plans. Certainly, we are well aware of their assessments. Especially after the October War of 1973, this strategy of the American diplomacy has become clear and explicit. The US has been trying in different ways to undermine the determination of the Arab Republic of Syria. They tried using diplomacy and encouraged some Arab countries to put pressure on the Arab Republic of Syria. They are trying to take advantage of the differences between Syria and Iraq. However, the role played by Iraq in this strategy is not clear yet. We have not yet completed our analysis. However, the fact is that the Iraqi involvement coincided with the US pressure. This has been confirmed by Kissinger himself. In 1974 and 1975 we did not take into consideration his proposals. At that time Kissinger was quoted in some American papers saying that if they had succeeded to reconcile Iraq with Iran, then Iraq would have become stronger and more stable. This would have increased the pressure on Syria, forcing it to join the separatist agreements. Even when he first visited our country after the Iran-Iraqi agreement, Kissinger bluntly told our Foreign Minister on their way from the airport that Iraq had become stable, which would allow the Iraqis to put more pressure on us. Boumedienne [9] , the late President of Algeria told me that he had scruples because he had contributed to the Iran – Iraq agreement. For quite some time his contribution was considered significant. We finally found out however, that his role in drawing up the agreement was not as significant as previously thought. He was actually only encouraging the Arab public opinion to accept the agreement. For some time he really thought that the agreement would contribute to strengthening the united front against imperialism. By the end of his life, however, he reversed his views.

I would like also to add few words on Iraq's actual motives for taking up that role. When the US failed to impose their will through the traditional methods from the past, they attempted to change their strategy. First, they tried to incite internal disorders in Syria, relying on certain reactionary groups, who have been playing a negative role not only in Syria but in the history of the Arab peoples in general. They also relied on some reactionary-oriented neighboring Arab countries. Here we can include groups from Lebanon, not to mention Israel too.

We energetically resisted these attempts thanks to the devotion of our people, in whose interest we made our revolution and in whose interest we now strengthen of our state and our security. We hope that very soon we will be able to uncover the true face of the US, to expose their agents and methods, which undoubtedly are doomed to failure. They will be convinced very soon that whatever methods they use and however they pressure us, the Arab Republic of Syria will not be diverted from its policy of resisting imperialism. The Syrian Arab Republic will continue to be a stronghold in the struggle against imperialism for the sake of world peace, social progress and freedom. Certainly, we are aware that in this struggle we can rely on our sincere friends and comrades. And we have no doubts in our final victory thanks to the support of our friends. We both know that the major goal of American imperialism is to undermine and break off the existing fraternal and cooperative relations with our socialist friends. Whatever hardships we might face, we will not give up our cause and we will not betray our friends and principles.

With that I would like to give the floor to comrade T. Zhivkov.

Dear comrade President,
Dear Syrian friends,

First of all, I would like to express the gratitude of our party, government and delegation for the invitation to visit your country. I am personally very happy for having the opportunity to meet and talk with you once again, comrade Assad. Thank you for everything you said. It was very interesting.

Our Party and State leadership commissioned us, first of all, to discuss and negotiate the possibilities for further development of the fruitful cooperation between our countries and peoples. We consider the Syrian Arab Republic a friendly country. We are looking forward to developing fruitful cooperation in all areas of common interest, whether political, economic or cultural — basically in all areas where we have already developed strong friendly relations.

I agree with you that we should give the opportunity to the respective counterparts in our delegations to do their work today and then to present to us their proposals. I am sure that their projects will receive our blessing and the results of the visit will be very positive. It cannot be otherwise.

Visiting your country, we would like to declare clearly and explicitly, in true Bulgarian style, without beating about the bush, our complete support for your just struggle for the triumph of the Arab cause. We are aware that in your region today the major burden lies on Syria, as it is an immediate front state.


What does this mean?

Let us take the case of GDR, although we can have as an example any other country. These missiles are mobile and easy to transport — they are not stationary. They can be launched from an airplane or any other vehicle. In four or five minutes they can hit all socialist countries; in six minutes they can reach the Eastern part of the Soviet Union. This makes it imperative for us and the Soviet Union to adopt some countermeasures. Our struggle is a struggle for Europe and for all European peoples. These missiles also cover the whole region of the Middle East. You can imagine what it means. We are aware of NATO plans. They plan to destroy everything in case of retreat, so that our armies go into desert territories.

All this started before Afghanistan. Let us take for example the region of the Indian Ocean, the Middle and Near East, the deployment of gendarme troops around the Indian Ocean, Egypt and Somalia. This is also a part of the grand plan against the progressive regimes and in defense of the oil industry. I pointed out yesterday that these plans are insane — they cannot control the processes they will unleash. Saudi Arabia is no longer the same state and the internal situation in Egypt is also different. Therefore, their attempt to destabilize yours and our country will fire back as boomerang.
The situation however is worrisome because everything comes from the insane plans of the Carter administration. The idea that they will destroy us by blocking and suspending our corn supply is stupid. They will not make us starve to death — this is impossible. The truth is of course that we have been experiencing some difficulties. We must resist however all these plans and defend our positions. We have no other way. The Americans cannot go to war. And how else, if the Soviet Union has an army of more than a million people here. As I pointed out yesterday, the Vietnamese defeated them, even though their weaponry was far worse than the American. If they wanted to defeat Vietnam, they should have sent more than a million troops. Besides, Vietnam has friends the same way the Arab peoples do. The US exercise enormous pressure on their allies in Europe. However, they will not succeed in bringing the Cold War back to the point where it was before. This is impossible.

Certainly, there are difficulties. I completely agree with your words. We came here to express our unconditional support for your just struggle against imperialism, Zionism and reaction.

Thank you.

I would like also to thank you. Now let us give the opportunity to our colleagues to have negotiations on the different fields of our cooperation.

[Source: Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 60, File 264. Translated by Assistant Professor Kalina Bratanova; Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev and Kalin Kanchev]

[1]Assad, Hafez al, Gen. (1928 - 2000) – Minister of Defense and Commander in Chief of the Air Force of Syria (1965-70); Leader of Syrian Ba'th Party, President of Syria (1971 - 2000).

[2] Mladenov, Petar (1936 - 2000) - Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria (1971-1989); Member of Politburo (1974-1989); Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, from April 1990 Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (Nov 1989 - June 1990); President of Bulgaria (Nov 1989 - June 1990).

[3] Lukanov, Andrey (1938-1998) - CC BCP Politburo Candidate member (1979-1989); Deputy Prime Minister (1976-1989); Permanent Representative to COMECON (1980); Deputy Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (1990-1991); Prime Minister of Bulgaria (Jan. - Dec. 1990).

[4] Balev, Milko (1920-2002), Chief of Staff for Todor Zhivkov at CC BCP (1956-1986), Member of Politburo (1982-1989).

[5] Tzanov, Vassil - Secretary of CC BCP for Agriculture (1981-1989), Deputy Minister of Agriculture (1974-1979), and Chairman of National Agrarian-Industrial Union (1979-1981).

[6] Abdul Rauf al-Kasm (B. 1932) – Prime Minister of Syria (1980-1987)

[7] Abdul-Halim Khaddam (B. 1932) – Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade (1969-1970); Minister of Foreign Affairs (1970-1984) and Vice President of Syria (since 1984).

[8] Arab Steadfastness and Confrontation Front – created in 1978 by Syria, Libya, Algeria, Iraq, PDR of Yemen, and PLO to oppose Sadat's policy of reconciliation with Israel.

[9] Boumedienne, Houari [Mohammed Ben Brahim Boukharouba] (1927 - 1978) One of the leaders of FLN, Defense Minister (1962 - 1965), and President (1965 - 1978) of Algeria


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