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1982 Jun 23 We
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference at the UN

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Press Conference
Venue:UN Building, New York
Source:Thatcher Archive: transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:1145-1230.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:4324
Themes:Defence (Falklands War 1982), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (general discussions), Northern Ireland, Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Foreign policy (Central and Eastern Europe), Defence (arms control), Defence (general), Foreign policy (International organisations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non - EU), Public spending and borrowing, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), European Union (general)

Question

When Argentina captured the Falkland Islands on April 2nd you not only responded militarily but worked on the diplomatic front to win support of European countries and the United States for your plan to impose economic sanctions against Argentina. All this was done in the name of UN Charter principles, non-use of force in international relations. Your Excellency, Israel, violating the same principle, has invaded Lebanon and has virtually taken over the country. I would like to know what has the British Government done to punish the invasion of Lebanon as the same principle was violated.

Answer

You are not really interested in the Argentine Falklands issue except by drawing a parallel with the Lebanon. We of course voted for the Security Council resolution calling upon Israel to withdraw from the Lebanon. Of course we did, as indeed did the large majority of other people in the Security Council. We also issued a statement, by virtue of being a member of the European Community, condemning the invasion across the border into the Lebanon. So we were absolutely in parallel in that respect with the Falklands and with the incursion into the Lebanon. You asked me what we have done. Everything on the Security Council resolution that we did with the Falklands and also a very vigorous statement, two statements, from the European Economic Community, of which we are a member, condemning Israel for her action in the Lebanon.[fo 1]

Question

Would you kindly explain why you consider that Britain, a country which would not allow Jewish refugees to enter Palestine to escape Nazi terror, can invoke principle of all things in its international actions, particularly since in areas such as Tasmania and Ireland alone, it has more to live down than any South American dictatorships?

Answer

How I can invoke principle in international action? But of course I can. We stand for freedom, justice and upholding the United Nations Charter. The people for example in the Falklands had freedom and justice and self-determination. They now have it once again. We stand for upholding international law, that means that you must honour the borders of other people's countries, otherwise there is no international law, there is only international anarchy. We stand for self-determination. There was a border poll in Northern Ireland and of course it was won overwhelmingly by those who wished to stay with the United Kingdom. The fact is that the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland wish to stay a part of the United Kingdom—that is their right to self-determination. It is a right under the United Nations Charter, it is a right which we enjoy in my country, it is a right which is enjoyed in all democratic countries. And I might just point out, we were one of those countries which went to war in 1939 to 1945 to uphold all of those principles and to stop a tyrant holding sway over Europe and even further. And for a time we stood alone. So it is not a question I expect to find asked of me. But in having been asked, it is not a question I find difficult to answer in any way.[fo 2]

Question

Do you think that the Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland are entitled to the same rights of self-determination as the British subjects in the Falkland Islands?

Answer

Irish Catholics are entitled to exactly the same voting rights as any other citizen of Northern Ireland, exactly the same right as I have and as a voting member of my country. We do not distinguish between Catholics and Protestants in voting rights, so of course we don't. We are all entitled to vote for the government of our choice.

Question

There are Irish Catholics over here in New York who have brethren over there across the sea, and say that the Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland are treated as inferior citizens economically and in many other ways.

Answer

We have direct rule now in Northern Ireland, we have direct rule to see that everyone has equal rights before the law and equal rights in every other way.

Question

How do you gauge the current level of tension between the Soviet Union and the West, and what are your reasonable expectations for developments which will emerge from the strategic arms reductions talks?

Answer

It is difficult to say how does one assess the current level of tension because you will be aware of what I said that when the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan, that indeed was the acquisition of a new territory and of course brought them power beyond their former frontiers and had destabilising effects within that particular region, and therefore on the world as a whole. Also, the events which are happening in Poland in my view are of a very,[fo 3] very fundamental nature. And the Communist system is a totally centrally-controlled system. There is one power source in a Communist state and that is the Government. What was happening in Poland was the development of another centre of influence and power and that of course is death to Communism and that of course is why they took action to try to see that the Solidarity movement did not get any further. Both of those are destabilising influences, again as one indicated in the speech. I think we are all very much looking forward to the disarmament talks. We realise that President Reagan took a very important initiative. What has happened is that both countries and all of those who are in the NATO alliance, we all wish to defend our own way of life. It is becoming more and more expensive to do so on both sides and therefore we have a mutual interest in getting down the costs of defence. Once you have a mutual interest in doing that, then I think there is a greater chance of success from those talks. I must again compliment President Reagan on the way in which he took that initiative and proposed the Zero option which was very, very much welcomed in Europe.

Question

What would be the effect on NATO of Britain leaving a substantial force in the Falklands? Have you absolutely ruled out a United Nations role in the future of the Falklands?

Answer

We have not in fact withdrawn a great deal from NATO except some of the ships which are now, instead of being on the normal frontline 48 hour alert, are still seconded to NATO on the 30 day alert. But it does in fact [inaudible[ to the advantage of NATO if each of her members also takes on duties outside the NATO border.[fo 4] You know the NATO doctrine, that together as NATO you cannot in fact take on any duties outside NATO. But each country of course has duties outside NATO and in fact rises to those duties and of course you must not just look at NATO as a closed thing within a boundary. What goes on in other parts of the world affects what happens within the NATO borders, if only because we are all highly dependent on what goes on in other parts of the world in order to get our raw materials and supplies. We have not withdrawn very much from NATO. The ships I say are on 30 day alert and I do not think that it will materially interfere with the main duties that we are carrying out in NATO. Those Falkland Islands hostilities were of ten weeks duration and of course what you need to deter is a good deal less that what you need to repossess. That's the point.

Question

In your speech, and I quote you, you said, "the leaders of the North Atlantic Alliance have just given a solemn collective undertaking to precisely that effect. They said "none of our weapons will ever be used except in response to attack". Where and when was that said, and does it include nuclear weapons?

Answer

The point about pointing out the statement which has recently been made, because we have just had a very big NATO Council, was that we did not just say nuclear weapons. We said that the whole of the NATO alliance is basically a defensive alliance and therefore we are not likely to use our weapons to attack. We are a defensive alliance. The balance between nuclear between East and West is different and the balance of conventional different. But the NATO alliance has a deterrent effect taking the nuclear and conventional together and that statement referred to the whole of the weapons of the[fo 5] NATO alliance, not distinguishing between the nuclear or the conventional. What the point was it went infinitely [further?[ than Mr Breshnev's statement that we will not use nuclear arms first. But then NATO is a defensive alliance.

Question

I do not think you completed the answer on a previous question about your discussion with the Secretary General on the UN's possible action in the future of the Falklands (Malvinas) situation.

Answer

I'm sorry. I discussed the present situation on the ground in the Falklands with the [ Perez de Cuellar] Secretary General. It is of course going to take some time to get back to normality. It's not in the least bit surprising when you have had both eleven or twelve thousand troops invading and the islands have had to be repossessed. There is a great deal of damage. A Lot of mines have been laid totally indiscriminately and in practical terms there is a very big job to get back the normal lives of those people, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Fortunately we have got most of the prisoners of war back to Argentina which is of great relief both for us and I am sure for them. Now, what happens? The main thing is to get back to normality. That will take quite a time. We then shall carry on as we have done in the past reporting regularly to the United Nations on the increasing efforts we are making to bring those islands more towards self-government. As you know, they already have their own elected Legislative Council and some of its members on the Executive Council. We shall aim to go towards self-government and I believe we shall achieve it. There are a number of people well used to exercising leadership in those islands.[fo 6]

Question

[Words missing?[ Multi-national force that you would like to see there as peacekeeping?

Answer

Well at the moment I do not think so. At the moment what we have to do is keep the islands defended. I think within a few months we will have to look at things again and we will be in a position to discuss things with the people there. But it is quite clear at the moment that we must look to ourselves for the defence of those islands. Afterwards we will of course welcome some help.

Question

…   . you are against a United Nations peacekeeping force and would prefer a different kind of international peacekeeping force in the longer term, with American participation, in the Falklands. Can you say whether you do prefer the idea of a different kind, of a non-United Nations international force, and if so, whether you will be raising this with President Reagan later today?

Answer

I do not think that a United Nations peacekeeping force is appropriate for the Falklands. One has seen where United Nations peacekeeping forces have operated they have not operated, I am afraid, to prevent invasion by an aggressor. My duty towards the Falklands Islands is that those people there are properly defended. At the moment that has to be carried out by us. And should we be able later on to get some help with that, bearing in mind that it is in another hemisphere, that help would be very welcome. But I think it will take some considerable time to go towards the stage of thinking further about it, because of the actual situation on the ground there, there is so much to be done. We as you know, are helping with a[fo 7] multinational force in Sinai. Those are rather different circumstances and when President Reagan asked me it was obvious that others would not take part unless we did, and therefore it might not get off the ground so of course we took part in it. But the circumstances are different. Here you would have to have a very clear structure of command to prevent the possibility of any further invasion. If you are dealing with a multinational force you do have to watch very clearly what is the precise structure of command because it might have to act quickly. So for the time being we shall defend—later naturally we would wish to consider whether a multinational force could do it more effectively.

Question

The Americans make the point that the Sinai force was put there with the agreement of the two opposing parties—Egypt and Israel—and therefore can I ask you whether you would concede that American point that the Argentinians would have to agree to an international force if it were in fact to be workable on the Sinai model?

Answer

That's a matter for the United States to say. There is absolutely no parallel apart from the fact that the multinational force has been referred to in connection with both. There is absolutely no parallel between the Sinai position and the Falklands position. The Falklands position was discovered by Britain, has been British territory continuously for over 150 years. The people on the Falkland Islands are of British stock, some of them have been there for seven generations, which is far longer than many of the people have been in Argentine who also came from Europe. And there are only thirty Argentines on those islands. So the situation is totally different. What we have done is to say to the invader: you had neither title to those islands, nor do the people wish you to be there. The people have a right of self-determination. We have repossessed what was[fo 8] British sovereign territory and enabled the people there once again to live under the government of their choice. So there is no question of asking the Argentine about any action in relation to the future of those islands as far as we are concerned. We discuss the future of those islands with the people who inhabit those islands who have the right of self-determination as you and I who sit here have it in relation to our own countries, being the United States and Britain.

Question

The Spanish press has said that you would consider independence for Gibraltar if that is the desire of its inhabitants and also if Spain agreed to that. Can you confirm that? And when are you going to re-open negotiations with the Spanish Government?

Answer

As you know, we have consistently said that the wishes of the inhabitants of Gibraltar are paramount and those would be our first consideration. That after all, and I cannot stress it too often, is what democracy is all about—not imposing something upon the peoples of a territory but consulting them about their wishes. Gibraltar actually is self-governing and so we have said in any talks we have in Spain, the wishes of the people of Gibraltar will be paramount.

Question

Can you see any …   . economic effects from the war in the Falklands? I am thinking about …   . the effect on your reconstruction plans on an economy that now has considerable unemployment.

Answer

The money has to be found from somewhere. The fact is that one will have to spend it upon this instead of upon something else. So the economic effects are nil because what you spend on one thing you cannot spend on another. And I say the economic[fo 9] effects are nil because we shall cover the expenditure in an orthodox way and not print the money.

Question

You told everyone that the peace in the Caribbean is very uneasy, especially since we know we have a precedent when Crenada was taken over by a group of individuals while the Prime Minister was visiting the UN. Does your Government plan to have a more active policy in that area?

Answer

In the Caribbean area I think we usually have one ship on station in the Caribbean and, as you know, it has been very useful really when you have had hurricanes and disasters in that area. But I am the first to say that it is not there as a defence of the whole area, nor could it be. We also have a garrison in Belize and some Harrier aircraft there. And I do not think we can take on any extra defence liabilities in that particular region. I am very much aware of the need for the region to defend itself. What we do to help is we do train in the United Kingdom some of the police and we do train some of the army. And if I might respectfully blow the trumpet for Britain, that is the very best trainer you can get for either the world over.

Question

The EEC is planning a meeting by the end of this month to consider measures to be taken regarding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Would you please elaborate on some of those measures?

Answer

The Community has already issued a statement about it which was very much in keeping with the Security Council resolution that there should be a withdrawal by Israel from the Lebanon. We also[fo 10] in the Community have stopped an arrangement between the Community and Israel. I hope only temporarily, it was a financial protocol under which Israel was going to be able to borrow some money from Europe. I do not think that there will be any question of sanctions in that part of the world and I expect that we shall call once again for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. Lebanon has its own territorial integrity or should have. She is a completely independent country. And the view which I have consistently taken is that if you expect yourself to live in peace and security within your own borders and have self-determination within your own borders then you must not attempt to deny those same things to neighbouring countries. In other words you cannot demand for yourself what you are at the same time denying to others. And I think you will find that any further statement is very much in keeping with that.[fo 11]

Question ( Jack Smith, ABC News)

Mrs. Thatcher, are there any circumstances at all under which you could foresee reaching an accommodation with Argentina, or even dealing with the Argentines on the subject of the future of the Falklands?

The Prime Minister

As far as sovereignty is concerned, those are British sovereign territory. I have indicated that they were discovered by us and that they have in fact been in continuous habitation for 150 years. And the people of the islands wish to stay under the way of life which they have known and will hope to bring them up to self-government. And if they come to independence later, then that is a matter for them. There are at present forty-five countries in the United Nations that have come to independence under British rule. That is our normal way of proceeding. And normally we'd only discuss the question of sovereignty with the people who inhabit that territory. Again I stress to you that is what self-determination is all about. And self-determination is the cornerstone of the United Nations Charter. So gradually we will hope that we cease to be non-self-governing territories under the United Nations Charter and become self-governing territories. It's for the people themselves to say whether they wish to go independent as the other forty-five countries who are members of the United Nations have previously said before them, those countries previously having been British. So that, I hope, is clear. Of course we would try to keep friendly relations with Argentine. And I may I just remind colleagues here, it was my Government that actually restored diplomatic relations with the Argentine, in a desire to be as friendly as possible. I am afraid it didn't do a great deal of good. It was not we who broke off[fo 12] diplomatic relations. The night before the invasion Mr. Costa Mendez called in our Ambassador, when we had been having troubles with South Georgia because people had landed there, and told our Ambassador the diplomatic channel is now closed. That was on the 1st April. So it was my Government that actually sought to be friendly with the Argentine, restore diplomatic relations which were not present when the previous Government was there. And it was Mr. Costa Mendez who said diplomatic channels are now closed, and then they invaded. So if there is lack of friendship it is not due to [lack of?[ good will or positive action on our part. I hope that we shall eventually be able to restore that friendship. But the sovereignty of the Falklands is a matter between us and the people of the Falklands in pursuit of self-determination. First, as to what is our fundamental democratic belief and secondly, what is a cornerstone of the United Nations Charter.

Question (Argentinian)

It seems from what you have said that the British point of view is different now from what it was in fourteen years of bilateral negotiations …   . Now you said that between your Government and the inhabitants of the Islands we were led to believe before, during fourteen years of negotiations, that was another kind of arrangement that could have been made. I am mistaken?

The Prime Minister

Shall I try to reconcile what I think are the two differing viewpoints? First, whenever we had talks with the Argentine about the future, we have always had with us representatives of the Island Council, elected representatives of the Island Council. Here in New York on February 25th last when we were having talks with the Argentine, we only ever have talks with the[fo 13] elected representatives of the people. We represent them. And it is their wishes we wish to interpret. Those elected representatives have always made perfectly clear that they do not wish to discuss sovereignty. They wish to keep their own way of life and to stay British either coming towards self-government. But they wish to keep their own way of life. So they have always been with us when we have discussed with the Argentine. But they were not discussing transfer of sovereignty, either now or in the future. They had all specifically rejected that. And throughout in my Parliament, after all we are again people who have self-determination, we have always said the wishes of the Falkland Islanders shall be paramount. And so, yes, we were talking. But we hope to come to friendly relations. There is so much development that really could be done in and around the Falklands. And one needs joint business ventures and more of that kind of thing in order for the benefit both of Argentina and the people of the Falklands. But you do not have to have transfer of sovereignty or any particular interest in sovereignty in order to have that kind of increasing cooperation. Incidentally, that particular meeting on February 25th went really rather well. And they decided to set up a joint Negotiating Commission. There was a communique issued which we published. It referred to cordial and friendly relations. The powers that be in Buenos Aires decided that it should not be published in Buenos Aires. But please it's not for lack of friendship on our part. But I think that the difference between Argentina and ourselves is that we believe in self-determination, and Argentina seems to take a rather different view.[fo 14]

[A British official[ The Prime Minister has a number of engagements immediately ahead. Can we take two more questions?

Question (Canadian Press)

Does Britain therefore not feel bound by the final aspect of the Security Council Resolution calling for a negotiated settlement?

The Prime Minister

The fundamental point—the Security Council Resolution had three points. Cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of the Argentine troops, negotiations. The withdrawal of the Argentine troops was never honoured—never. Now if you have a three-legged stool it cannot stand on two legs.

Question

From what you have said so far I have the impression that the UK intends to stay in the Malvinas Islands and probably to build there a base. My question is this: Do you believe, really believe that after the courageous and highly effective fight of the Argentinians against the combined military power of the United States of America and Great Britain and after the treacherous destruction of the General Belgrano outside the 200-mile war zone, Argentina could possibly give away to your country, or to any other country, an integral part of its national territory, namely the Malvinas Islands and its dependencies?

The Prime Minister

Well of course it is not an integral part of the Argentine's territory and never has been. I might just give one or two analogies. Trinidad and Tobago are a lot nearer to Venezuela than the Falklands are to the Argentine. Cuba is nearer to the United States than the Falklands are to the Argentine. The Canary Islands are nearer to Morocco than they are to Spain. The Falkland Islands have never been an integral part of the Argentine.[fo 15] There are people on the Falkland Islands, some of them have been there for seven generations, far longer than some of the people from Spain and Italy have been in the Argentine. The same reasons which those from Spain and Italy lay claim to the Argentine are the self-same reasons why some of the British who were there before them on the Falklands lay claim to the Falklands. What we are after is self-determination of the population of the Falkland Islands, only some thirty are from Argentine and they have not been there for long, only in pursuit of the 1971 Communications Agreement. So the supposition, that the Falkland Islands are a long way away from the Argentine or part of the Argentine, is wrong. We therefore look at it as the will of the people there. That is what matters in a democracy. And may I just again point out there was peace between Britain and the Falklands and the Argentines. We did not break that peace. It was broken by an invasion by force against us. We tried a resolution here. We tried negotiation so that the Argentine would leave the Islands and that we would not in fact have further hostilities. The Argentines did not withdraw. Not the combined force of the United Kingdom and the United States. They were only our people sent 8,000 miles away to recover our possessions. Certainly we had some help in what is called material support, for which we are profoundly grateful, from the United States. But we had to fight a battle bobbing around on ships on the ocean 8,000 miles away because our people could look to no one but Britain for their defence. But I hope I have made it clear, there are many, many islands in the world who would tremble for their future if the view that was taken was because the nearest coast—the nearest territory—was another country—would tremble if that adjacent country demanded[fo 16] that that territory belonged to them. And many of them are now members of the United Nations, brought to independence by us.