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Digital Archive International History Declassified

September 30, 1974

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION BETWEEN TODOR ZHIVKOV AND HAFEZ AL ASSAD

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    The two leaders discuss the Middle East, the American involvement, and the shipment of Soviet weaponry to Syria.
    "Memorandum of Conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Hafez Al Assad ," September 30, 1974, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 378-B, File 1138, Papka 14. Obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113435
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Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Memorandum of Conversation between Todor Zhivkov and Hafez Al Assad [1], 30 September 1974


Memorandum of conversation between Todor Zhivkov, CC BCP First Secretary and chairman of the State council of People's Republic of Bulgaria, and Hafez Al-Assad , Secretary General of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party [2] and President of the Syrian Arab Republic.

After the usual greetings and casual exchange, the two state and party leaders discussed the economic situation in both countries. Comrade Todor Zhivkov presented to Assad the achievements of our country in cultivation, manufacturing and export of tobacco. The leaders exchanged views on the prices of certain commodities, the state centralized distribution system in Syria, the oil distribution in our country, etc.

The two leaders also exchanged views on the bilateral relations. They concluded that the relations between PR of Bulgaria and Syrian Arab Republic are moving in a positive direction to the benefit of the two nations.

Comrade Zhivkov presented his views on the situation in the Middle East. He pointed out that the policy of the imperialist countries, and the USA in particular, is directed toward weakening of the Arab national liberation movement and distracting progressive regimes away from their way of development. For this goal, the imperialists are not sparing efforts and financial resources, and will use all possible means. Pretending to be friends to the Arab countries, they are trying to re-colonize them. Comrade Todor Zhivkov pointed out that some of the so-called ?progressive regimes? are flirting with and giving concessions to the US and the other capitalist countries.

Comrade Todor Zhivkov emphasized that our policy toward Syria, the Arab states, and the conflict in the Middle East is high-principled and not opportunistic. We insist on complete withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the occupied territories and for restoration of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

Comrade Zhivkov informed Assad about his recent visit to Egypt and pointed out that he had a frank discussion with Sadat [3] on all problems, including the Egyptian-American relations and whether Egypt should develop under socialism or capitalism. He expressed his observation that there are influential circles in Egypt that exercise strong pressure for changing the relations with the Soviet Union. Sadat came to Sofia to ask for Bulgarian mediation for improving Egyptian ? Soviet bilateral relations. He was well aware of the close relations between PR of Bulgaria and USSR, as well as of the friendship between comrade Zhivkov and comrade Brezhnev. He even suggested comrade Brezhnev to be informed about their conversation. Comrade Zhivkov reported that he honestly informed comrade Brezhnev about his conversation with Sadat ? word for word, without making any inferences. In order to give Assad better picture of what problems were discussed in Sofia, comrade Zhivkov ordered Assad to be acquainted with the main points of the meeting, using the memo from the meeting.

Comrade Zhivkov emphasized that the Egyptians dispatched a high-level delegation for the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the socialist revolution in Bulgaria. Among its members were the future Prime Minister Dr. Abd al-Aziz Hejazi [4]and the First Secretary of the Arab Socialist Union [5] Dr. Hafez Ganem. Apparently the Egyptian leadership expected to get in touch with comrade Brezhnev while here. Due to exhaustion however, comrade Brezhnev was unable to attend and the Egyptians requested a meeting with comrade Podgorny [6], head of the Soviet delegation. Together they had a several-hour-long conversation. Afterwards comrade Podgorny said that they had an open discussion. The Egyptian media, however, released that they had discussed the improvement of the bilateral relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union.

Comrade Zhivkov also pointed out that based on what he knows from his communication with comrade Brezhnev, there are no issues in the USSR-Syrian relations. The Soviet Union recouped the weaponry lost by Syria in the October war [7] and delivered even more. The single open issue concerns the surface-to-surface missiles, since the Soviet Union has not delivered them to Syria.

President Assad stated that the USA and the West have succeeded to certain extent to consolidate their positions in the Arab world. The Arab reactionary forces helped them considerably in this respect. The USA wants to isolate completely the Soviet Union from the Middle East process and so far they have gone far in this respect. Syria alone resisted the US plans for the Arab East and hindered their implementation. Because of the firm Syrian position, the US was forced to make concessions. Kissinger [8] was forced to request a meeting with comrade Gromyko [9] in Damask and to seek his mediation because the Syrians insisted that a solution cannot be reached without the Soviet Union. The Syrian persistence forced Kissinger to make a 33-day trip to the Middle East in order to reach an agreement for separation of the armies at the Syria-Israeli front. Since the US had made some commitments, it was impossible for them to leave the negotiations without achieving anything. Assad and Kissinger had a 130-hour-long conversation to reach an agreement.

Because the Syrian persistence provoked a strong American hatred, there are actions against Syria under way. During Kissinger's visit, Syria reaffirmed its determination to defend its way of development and follow independent domestic and foreign policy. This helped the Americans realize that Syria is the biggest threat to their plans for the region and because of that they will try to deliver a blow to the Syrian regime with the possibly of overthrowing it.

Israel is preparing itself for military actions. It has received a big shipment of US weapons ? much more than what Syria has received from the Soviet Union. The Zionist propaganda is constantly blaming Syria for building up its military capacity and even claims that Syria has already obtained surface-to-surface missiles. By doing that Israel is trying to justify the building of its own military capability and to mislead the world public. This is not surprising, since Israel has been preparing for a preventive strike.

Assad acknowledged that Syria received from the Soviet Union enough weapons to recoup the losses from the October War. However, they have not received new weapons. The sole exception were the MIG-23 jet fighters. He pointed out that he could not understand the Soviet reluctance to deliver to Syria surface-to-surface missiles. Egypt has already received such missiles and the Egyptian experts have been taught how to use them. He had dispatched several Syrian officers to be trained for using those missiles. Syria needs those missiles for defense against possible Israeli attacks on Syrian cities and in case of war. He declared that he would not use such missiles to make a preventive strike on Israeli cities. Being aware of the fact that Syria possesses such missiles, Israel will refrain from bombing Syrian settlements. As for the state of the Syrian military equipment, Assad pointed out that it will be sufficient only if Syria led a war against Israel together with Egypt. If Syria is forced to go to war alone, then the weapons would be insufficient. Assad demanded more weapons since they needed time to train their military to use them. If the weapons are delivered when the war has already started, they will not be used efficiently because of the lack of training. Assad asked comrade Zhivkov to convey to comrade Brezhnev his request for delivery of missiles and other weapons. He confirmed that the successes of the Syrian army during the October War [7] considerably raised their confidence in Soviet weaponry. While before the war almost 3/4 of the Arabs thought that the Soviet weapons were inferior to the American weapons, today the Arab opinion has shifted considerably in favor of the Soviets. Assad raised these problems at his last meeting with comrade Brezhnev. Comrade Brezhnev promised to consider these issues. [?]

Comrade Zhivkov promised President Assad that at his next meeting with comrade Brezhnev, with whom he maintained good and friendly relations, he would convey the Syrian request. He pointed out that the socialist countries will not allow Syria to be defeated or the regime to be threatened ? so, Assad should not worry. The situation today is completely different. Comrade Zhivkov declared that we considers Syria, its regime, and President Assad the most friendly nation, the closest ally, and the most progressive country in the Arab East. The socialist community firmly supported Syria and its leadership.

President Assad stated that Syria is afraid of nothing. They are ready to resist and go to war against Israel, the US and the imperialist countries for the victory of a just cause. He confirmed that the spirit of the Syrian military forces and the people is very high.

During the conversation, both leaders exchanged views on the situation in Cyprus. They shared the notion that the Cypress crisis was inspired by the US and NATO [10] in order to turn the island into a military base, whose activities will be directed against the socialist and Arab states. A shared view was expressed that the crisis had to be resolved keeping Cyprus united, independent and democratic.

September, 1974

[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'ath Party, President of Syria (1971 ? 2000).

[2] Ba'ath party - Arab political party, in Syria and in Iraq. Its main ideological objectives are secularism, socialism, and pan-Arab unionism. Founded in Damascus in 1941 and reformed, with the name Ba'ath, in the early 1950s, it rapidly achieved political power in Syria.

[3]Sadat, Anwar al (1918 ? 1981) Vice-President (1964 ? 1966, 1969 - 1970) and President (1970 ? 1981) of Egypt. Assasinated by an Islamic fanatic.

[4] Hejazi, Abd al-Aziz ? Prime minister of Egypt (1974-1975).

[5] Arab Socialist Union (ASU) - Egyptian political party established in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nassar as the only political organization active in Egypt. As a result of President Anwar Sadat's economic and political liberalization agenda in 1974, the ASU was divided into three political groups: left, right and center.

[6] Podgorny, Nikolay (1903-1983) ? CC CPSU member (1956-1981); CC CPSU Presidium member (1960 - 1977); CC CPSU secretary (1963-1965); one of the main Brezhnev's rivals for the Soviet leadership, he was elected to the less important post of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1965 - 1977); he was ousted from Politburo and relieved of his duties in June 16, 1977, when Brezhnev assumed the latter title.

[7] The October 1973 War (known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War) ? The war fought between Israel and the nations of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Egyptian and Syrian troops launched on October 6, 1973 an attack to re-conquer the territories under Israeli occupation since 1967. On October 24, after successful Israeli counterattack, the UN imposed a cease-fire

[8] Kissinger, Henry A. (B. 1923) National Security Adviser to US President Nixon (1969 ? 1973), and US Secretary of State (1973 ? 1977).

[9] Gromyko, Andrey (1909 ? 1989) Soviet foreign minister (1957-1985), Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1985-1988).

[10] Reference to the military coup in Cyprus and the Turkish invasion of the island from July 1974.


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