History of the U.S. and Bulgaria

U.S. Recognition of Bulgarian Independence, 1909

Bulgaria proclaimed its full independence from the Ottoman Empire on September 22 (October 5), 1908. That same day Horace G. Knowles, U.S. Minister to Romania and Serbia and Diplomatic Agent in Bulgaria, sent a telegram to the Secretary of State informing him that Bulgaria had proclaimed her independence.

On May 3, 1909 the Secretary of State sent a telegram to Hatcheson, diplomatic representative ad interim for Bulgaria, conveying U.S. President’s instructions to express his commendations to His Majesty Tsar Ferdinand, on the occasion of Bulgaria’s accession to the commonwealth of the sovereign and independent states.

Consular Presence

A Consular Agency was established in Sofia on January 12, 1912. It reported to the Consulate General in Bucharest. The first American Consular Agent in Bulgaria was actually a Bulgarian national, Asen Kermekchiev (later Ace Kermek),  a businessman, physician, and journalist. Kermekchiev served the United States Government even while working as a field doctor for Bulgaria in the First Balkan War, and was praised for protecting American lives and property while at the front. He also founded the first American Chamber of Commerce in Sofia.

The Consular Agency became a Consulate General on February 22, 1915 with the appointment of Dominic Murphy.

Diplomatic Relations

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1903

John B. Jackson, who was Minister to Greece, Romania, and Serbia, was the first Diplomatic Agent to Bulgaria, and the first U.S. representative to present his credentials there, which he did on September 19, 1903. This date marks the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the United States. He was re-appointed in 1911 as Minister to Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Later Diplomatic Agents to Bulgaria (1907-10) were also Ministers to Romania and Serbia. Only one of them, Horace G. Knowles (1907-09) presented his credentials in Bulgaria. Only after World War I was a U.S. representative commissioned solely to Bulgaria.

Establishment of Bulgarian Legation in the United States, 1914

On December 22, 1914, Stefan Panaretov presented his credentials as Bulgaria’s first Minister to the United States. He served until 1925.

Establishment of American Legation in Sofia, 1919

The American Legation in Sofia was established on March 18, 1919, when Charles S. Wilson presented his credentials as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at Sofia. Wilson later was appointed Minister to Bulgaria on October 8, 1921, and presented his credentials on December 5.

Diplomatic Relations Severed, 1941

Bulgaria declared war on the United States on December 13, 1941. U.S. Minister George H. Earle III left Sofia and arrived in Istanbul on December 27, 1941. The United States did not declare war on Bulgaria until June 5, 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Bulgaria would not have declared war without pressure from Nazi Germany.

Diplomatic Relations Resumed and American Legation Reopened, 1947

The Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria on September 5, 1944, and occupied the country despite Bulgaria’s acceptance of an armistice on September 8, 1944. The Sovietization of the country proceeded apace, with the country being proclaimed a People’s Republic on September 15, 1946. However, the United States still recognized the pre-war Bulgarian government. The U.S. Legation in Sofia was reopened on September 27, 1947, and Donald R. Heath presented his credentials on November 8 as U.S. Minister to Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Legation in the United States Reopened, 1947

The Bulgarian Legation in Washington reopened November 21, 1947, with Stoyan Athanassov as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. Minister Nissim Mevorah presented his credentials on December 29, 1947.

Diplomatic Relations Severed by Bulgaria, 1950

In 1950, the Bulgarian Government accused U.S. Minister Heath of espionage and declared him persona non grata on January 19. Bulgaria severed diplomatic relations with the United States on February 20, 1950. The United States announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Bulgaria on February 21, and Heath left the country on February 24, 1950.

Diplomatic Relations Reestablished and American Legation Reopened, 1959-1960

The United States and Bulgaria agreed to resume diplomatic relations on March 24, 1959. Edward Page, Jr. was appointed Minister to Bulgaria on November 23, 1959, and presented his credentials on March 14, 1960.

Bulgarian Legation in the United States Reopened, 1960

Peter Voutov was appointed as Bulgaria’s Minister to the United States on December 2, 1959, and presented his credentials on January 15, 1960.

Elevation of American Legation to Embassy Status, 1966

The Legation in Bulgaria was elevated to Embassy status on November 28, 1966. Minister John M. McSweeney, who had been originally appointed on May 16, 1966, was appointed Ambassador on April 7, 1967. He presented his new credentials on April 19, 1967.

Bulgarian Legation Raised to Embassy Status, 1966

Bulgarian Minister Luben Guerassimov, who had served since September 1, 1965, was promoted to Ambassador and presented his new credentials on December 14, 1966.

Source: Department of State’s Office of the Historian; U.S. Embassy – Sofia

Current Day Relations

The year 2003 marked the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Bulgaria. U.S.-Bulgarian relations were severed in 1950 but were restored a decade later. Bilateral relations between the two nations improved dramatically after the fall of communism. The United States moved quickly to encourage development of multi-party democracy and a market economy. The U.S. signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty in 1994 and gave Bulgaria most-favored-nation trade status in October 1996.

In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed the Support for East European Democracies Act (SEED), authorizing financial support to facilitate development of democratic institutions, political pluralism, and free market economies in the Balkan region. Bulgaria graduated from the SEED program in 2007 following its EU accession, having received over $600 million in SEED assistance since 1990.

The U.S.-Bulgarian Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2006, gives the United States military access to and shared use of several Bulgarian military facilities. The access facilitates joint training between the U.S. military and Bulgarian militaries. In January 2009 a treaty on avoidance of double taxation came into effect.

Bulgaria hosts the only U.S.-accredited university in the region, the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG).  AUBG is located in Blagoevgrad and was established in 1991.  Also accredited in Bulgaria, AUBG draws students from throughout southeast Europe and beyond.  As of 2011, the American University of Bulgaria had over 1,000 students.

In June 2007, President George W. Bush visited Sofia following the first visit of a U.S. President, Bill Clinton, in 1999.  In February 2012, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton visited Sofia.