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Digital Archive International History Declassified

April 22, 1980

MINUTES OF CONVERSATION BETWEEN TODOR ZHIVKOV AND YASSER ARAFAT, DAMASCUS

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    The two leaders discuss the situation in the Middle East, and the role of the superpowers - the US and the Soviet Union.
    "Minutes of Conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Yasser Arafat, Damascus," April 22, 1980, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 60, File 264. Translated by Dr.Rositza Ishpekova. Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev, Kalin Kanchev. Obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113416
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MEETING
of Comrade Todor Zhivkov with the president of the executive committee of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, that took place in Comrade Todor Zhivkov's residence in Damascus on April 22nd 1980

TODOR ZHIVKOV:
I am happy to greet you and express my content that we are meeting again.

We are visiting your region. You directly observe the events here, you are better aware of the way things are here and the way they are developing. What are we going to do further on?

We judge the relationship between the Bulgarian Communist Party and the PLO to be good. Our present meeting will further enhance the development of these relationships. I would like to assure you that we will do whatever is required of us in this respect.

It so happened that I was the first among the first leaders of the fraternal socialist countries to visit Castro in Cuba, to visit Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, South Yemen, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos immediately after the Chinese aggression. This is the way our party has brought us up.
We spoke with comrade Hafiz Al Assad both yesterday and today, tomorrow we will continue our conversation, and on Thursday we are going back to Bulgaria. The talks we are having are carried out in an open, friendly atmosphere. We still haven't discussed the Palestinian question. Tomorrow we are continuing our talks.

YASER ARAFAT:
I thank you for this meeting, Comrade Zhivkov. I would once again like to express our gratitude for Bulgaria's support for the just struggle of the Arab people of Palestine and the rest Arab countries, which are living in a complicated period of their development and which have been exposed to increasing pressure on them by the imperialist countries. Your present visit is a reflection of the principled and permanent support that Bulgaria lends to the national-liberation movement and to progressive regimes. It is not by chance that it was you who was the first state leader from the socialist community to officially accept me.

I thank you for coming to Syria at this difficult moment. Syria is being turned into a major target of the imperialist invasion in this region, which necessitates lending support to overcome the difficult situation that was created. Syria has to bear all the difficulties in the struggle. It is not by chance that the imperialists are directing their efforts against Syria. It is the socialist countries' duty to stand by it. I am totally convinced that Syria will cope with the difficult situation and will be able to come out of it. Your visit will exert a favorable influence not only on Syria, but on Lebanon as well.

You are acquainted with the resolutions of the last Conference of the states of the Steadfastness and Confrontation National Front in Tripoli. It is true that we did not achieve everything we wanted there. But the resolutions are an important step ahead. I am speaking not only on behalf of the PLO, but also on behalf of all of the participants. Both the PLO and Syria have presented a working draft.

We can definitely state the following: we are taking into account the present situation in the Arab world, so the resolutions of the Conference in Tripoli are a positive fact. Many criticisms were directed at the Conference; people declared that it would be a total failure. They said that the Steadfastness and Confrontation National Front was born in Tripoli and will die in Tripoli. They relied on the contradictions between the PLO and Libya.

The Conference took place thanks to the great efforts made personally by Hafiz Al Assad to create the necessary conditions and to overcome the contradictions between the PLO and Libya. At least 50 percent of the major contradictions between us have been successfully solved; the talks on the settlement of the other issues are under way.

What is most important is the victory of the anti-imperialist spirit at the Conference in Tripoli. The struggle of the Arab peoples preserved its character and its anti-imperialist orientation. It is this orientation that the Conference follows. It will give an impetus to the struggle of the Arab peoples. The Conference drew a divide between the friends, on the one hand, and enemies and imperialist agents in the region, on the other. Our friends are the socialist countries, led by the Soviet Union. Qaddafi is going to visit the Soviet Union, to hand them the resolutions of the Conference. The aim is to consolidate and deepen even to a greater extent the relations with the socialist community, led by the Soviet Union. The Conference's resolutions create even better conditions for the fulfillment of that goal.

The remaining resolutions of the Conference will also help us to oppose the imperialist's offensive. The US has not abandoned its intentions in the region—indicative of this fact are the American actions in Oman, Somalia, Kenya, and others; the creation of a rapid reaction force; Carter doctrine; the way they take advantage of the problem in Afghanistan; the way they take advantage of contradictions between Iran and Iraq; the way they increase the tension in southern Lebanon in order to cause a collision between Israel and the PLO.

Under these circumstances the results of the Conference of the states of the Steadfastness and Confrontation National Front are successful, its resolutions are positive.

Assad put a lot of effort into trying to ensure the success of the Conference. We hesitated as to whether to go to Libya. We insisted on the Conference taking place in Damascus, since the major struggle is carried out in Syria.

As for the situation in the Arab/Persian Gulf, what is important is not how the Gulf will be named, but whether there will be American military bases around it.

Also dangerous are the relations between Iraq and Iran, since they not only concern these two countries, but also have an impact on the relations between all the countries in this region. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are Iraq's neighbors; the Gulf countries are also its neighbors. There are difficulties in bringing the Arab countries into closer relations with Iran.

Brzezinski once said that the USA will be free to act when contradictions between Iran and Iraq arise.

The contradictions between Iraq and Iran are dangerous. The conflict may give the USA an opportunity to fulfill their goals for Iran. They have become even closer friends with Iraq now—with Saddam Hussein.

I would be glad if you can elaborate on your forthcoming visit in Iraq.

The Camp David agreement reached a dead end. This was admitted by the Jews in America and Israel. It has been emphasized in declarations of the Jewish leaders.

Sadat has been making new concessions to the US and Israel, and his actions are creating new dangers: he has been trying and has managed to loosen the loop around American diplomacy in the Arab East. There is a dangerous element, consisting of three parts: Jerusalem, Gaza and the West bank of the Jordan River.

There has been a new division inside the occupied territories. People are coming out with a new more flexible platform in the Israeli elections. It will undoubtedly make things difficult for us. The Party of Labor of Shimon Peres might win.

TODOR ZHIVKOV:
Will the situation change drastically?

YASSER ARAFAT:
The Americans will bless it. A change has been noticed in Weitzman's behavior, who is openly arguing against Menachem Begin's policy.

What is most dangerous? There are two moments.
First, construction that was under way in the occupied territories has been stopped.

Second, a possibility exists that Israel might reach an agreement with Jordan, the spirit of Camp David might be restored, and Jordan might start negotiations again. This will undoubtedly disrupt the balance of powers in the region. We are making efforts to oppose that.

The Iran – Iraq conflict is only beneficial to imperialism. It might cause a polarization in the Islamic world by creating anti-Iran attitudes in the Arab countries supported by Iraq, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and others.

This could, in the long run, lead to the Arabs losing Iran's support. Hence we support the settling of the conflict, since the Palestinian cause is the one that suffers losses from it.

We have supported the Soviet Union. Imperialism, and more specifically the US, has been trying to take advantage of the events in Afghanistan and to create a belligerent attitude among Arab and Muslim people against the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries. Significant was the role played by the PLO at the Conferences of the Islamic ministers of foreign affairs, held in Islamabad and Morocco. The PLO delegation raised its voice against the attempts to place the Soviet Union and the USA on an equal footing and against the condemnation of the Soviet interference in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Palestinian delegation at the Conference in Morocco demanded that the USA be condemned for their help for the Israeli occupation of the seized Arab lands and Jerusalem above all, which is one of the most sacred places for Muslims all over the world. It also demanded that the Soviet Union should be thanked and that the Palestinian question should be considered one of primary importance. As a result of these tactics, the attempt to condemn the Soviet Union failed from the outset. We were expecting a severe battle at the annual meeting of the Conference of the Islamic foreign ministers in Islamabad. We put efforts into trying to make the countries from the Steadfastness and Confrontation National Front meet before Islamabad and sign an agreement.

We will now have to think over the new Iranian initiative regarding Afghanistan. They suggest sending a neutral international commission there, which would investigate the facts concerning the foreign interference in the country. A resolution was adopted to cease diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. If the resolution for creating and sending such a commission to Afghanistan is adopted this will practically mean canceling the present resolution for excluding Afghanistan. Apart from that it would be easy for the Afghan government to gather and reveal the necessary facts, undoubtedly proving the foreign mercenary interference, they would show whether there were actions which necessitated the coming of Soviet troops. We informed the Soviet comrades about this initiative. We ourselves still haven't made a decision on this resolution—we haven't refused Iran comrades, but we haven't given a positive answer either. This idea will be put to discussion by Iran at the forthcoming new Conference of the Islamic Foreign Ministers.

TODOR ZHIVKOV:
I thank you for the interesting information, comrade Arafat.

Recently I visited Libya where I had talks with comrade Qaddafi. Now I am visiting Syria and I am having friendly and useful talks with comrade Assad.

I would like again to assure you now, as I did at our previous meetings, that Bulgaria will invariably support the Palestinian cause. Since the very beginning, we have been supporting both morally and materially the Palestinian cause. I invite you, Comrade Arafat, to visit Bulgaria at a convenient time.

The case with Iraq is the following. There was a collision between Iraqi students—communists and Bassists—in Sofia due to personal reasons. Two young people were killed—a bassist and a communist. Iraq's reaction was nervous, it undertook a lot of measures, froze all our relations and withdrew its students—both bassists and others. We showed tolerance and kept cool. As a result they again sought contact with us. Our foreign minister visited Baghdad in response. Via him I sent a short message to Saddam Hussein. What was observable in the talks was a desire—both on their and our part—to normalize relations between our two countries. They have officially invited me to visit Iraq. We haven't discussed this question with our leaders. But obviously my visit there—at least so I think—will be useful both for developing bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Iraq, and for the common Arab cause. We followed the same line in Iraq as we did in the other Arab countries and this is well known.

Without making a detailed analysis of the international situation and of the USA's and Carter's anti-Soviet and anti-socialist campaign, I would like to note some points.

The reasons for this campaign are the events in Afghanistan. I told both Qaddafi during my visit in Libya and my Syrian friends now: this case did not concern only the events in Afghanistan. Things started well before Afghanistan.

What do I have in mind?

I have in mind NATO's decision to deploy medium range missiles in a lot of European countries. In 4-5 minutes these missiles can cover our country, the European part of the Soviet Union, the whole Arab East. They will reach any Arab country in 4-5 minutes from Italy. Moreover they fly at a low altitude and cannot be detected. This sets a new task before us. If this American adventure continues, Western Europe has headed towards a catastrophe. If these missiles are installed, we have to take adequate measures. We don't have any nuclear missiles in Bulgaria; the Soviet Union has nuclear missiles. Let's take the Federal Republic of Germany as an example. In order to damage the medium range missiles, located in Germany, we have to cover each centimeter of its territory with nuclear power. With NATO's decision to produce and install medium range missiles the whole policy of disarmament, SALT-2 collapses.

We are fighting also for the peoples in Europe and the Arab East. We cannot put up with these adventurous acts; we cannot allow everything to collapse tomorrow.

Consequently, this is a new moment in the international situation, caused by the American imperialists. The American imperialists have been exerting an enormous and utterly brutal pressure on Western European countries to follow their course.

The second problem regards the Arab East, the Far East and the Indian Ocean.

A new situation has been created here as well. The Americans have been settling their bases in these regions; new infrastructure is being created, and military units are being sent. Their goal is to interfere within any Arab country, if they consider that their interests are in danger. The American imperialists have been approaching the Soviet Union and our borders.

A new moment is also Sadat's separatist deal. Camp David created a new situation.

There is a new moment in Asia as well. Now the Americans have given this region to the Chinese, but not at ransom. The USA is concentrating its forces in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and the Indian Ocean.

We neither dramatize these events, nor are we scared. The Americans are well aware of the fact that they cannot lead a war here, in this region. There are millions of armies here. They can frighten us with airplanes, ships etc, but war is ultimately resolved by millions of people. The example of Vietnam illustrated that. The Americans do not have millions of people to fight there.

There is still another new moment. In spite of their efforts, the Americans cannot restore the “cold war” years in their old variant. It is detrimental to the American people. The people will not allow this situation to continue for long. It will portend a lot of dangers and confrontations that might lead to a world conflict.

You are acquainted with our position regarding your region – it is a principled, consistent one.

You are well aware of the new situations in the region. You have put a lot of effort into making the just deed of the Arab peoples--the Palestinian cause--triumph. Syria's responsibility is also great, but you have also put a lot of effort as a country on the frontline.

The enemy's conspiracy is large-scale. What is important at the moment is to strengthen the unity of the PLO – both militarily and politically. This is something I said to Qaddafi as well. The military and political tactics should be flexibly combined. The problem concerns Palestine – will the long-suffering people of Palestine manage to create their own state? The problem should be solved now. Hence unity is needed, both in the occupied territories and beyond their boundaries.

You are approaching the victory. It is necessary to combine the military and political tasks with extreme socio-economic measures. This is of particular importance to the population in the occupied territories. Any centrifugal force in the Palestine resistance movement is a great danger to the Palestinian and Arab cause. The Steadfastness and Confrontation National Front should be strengthened: it is the nucleus of the Arab peoples' struggle. But at the same time all forces should be mobilized. The other contradictions between the Arab countries should be placed second in importance. This holds for the disagreement between Syria and Iraq as well. Even a country such as Saudi Arabia takes into consideration your policy, and the relations you have with them are justifiable -- it shouldn't be allowed that they back up American imperialism. Your abilities are great. The socialist countries support you.

What influences the situation in your region and in the world are the forthcoming US Presidential elections. The situation in the region is further complicated by the Camp David agreements. This fact further requires strengthening of the revolutionary forces.

[…]

Why do the Iraqi leaders insist on my making an official visit? I don't want to make guesses. [Certainly,] it is difficult to live in isolation today. I think that even if the result of such a visit is minor, it will be a positive step.

[…]

The US started moving its fleet up toward the region, but the Soviet Union also moved their units. Otherwise the Americans would strike Iran. They would also strike us, Bulgaria. They will strike you too.

Bulgaria is close to your region. That it why we are anxiously following what is happening here.

We firmly support the unity of the Palestine resistance, led by you, Comrade Arafat. This is something we stated in Libya as well. They took as a basis our official statement there. Essentially no notes were made. There were only some discussions on the level of the working groups. The full text of the official statement, adopted by both delegations, including the part about PLO as the only representative of the People of Palestine, has been published in our press. But they have not published this part in Libya. I declare now in front of you once again that the full text of the official statement has been published in our press.

I would like to stress that you should by all means strengthen your unity. If you let them defeat you now, you will hand a big present to the imperialists. History will condemn you for this “present”.

YASSER ARAFAT:
We have a democratic spirit and we hold firmly to our unity.

[…]

[Translated by Dr.Rositza Ishpekova; Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev, Kalin Kanchev]

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