Press Conference in Aqaba
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||Press Conference|
|Venue:||Aqaba Holiday Inn, Aqaba, Jordan|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: COI transcript|
|Editorial comments:||Forty five minutes was set aside for the Press Conference (1445-1530), but it is likely that some part of that time was occupied by interviews.|
|Themes:||Foreign policy (Middle East), Terrorism, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (International organisations), Race, immigration, and nationality, Defence (general), Trade|
Ladies and Gentlemen:
First, one of the reasons I came was to rectify an omission, namely, that a Prime Minister in office had not visited Jordan. I am very pleased to have been the first Prime Minister to have done that.
It is extremely helpful to have seen at first-hand some of the problems which the Middle East faces. I want to thank both [King Hussein] His Majesty and the Prime Minister for the excellent arrangements which they have made to enable me to see so many people and so many places in this very brief visit.
This morning, we saw very good examples of cooperation between Jordan and the United Kingdom and, indeed, a spirit of friendship and cooperation has really been the key-note of this visit throughout.
As you know, I have stressed that we have always supported King Hussein's initiative and one of my main objectives in making this trip was to support Jordan, as a moderate Arab state, in its efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. I have therefore agreed that [Sir Geoffrey Howe] the Foreign Secretary will receive in London a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation as soon as this can be arranged. The members of[fo 1] this delegation will be, on the Jordanian side, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs; and on the Palestinian side, Bishop Khoury and Mr. Milhem, the former Mayor of Halhu (phon.).
We know Bishop Khoury and Mr. Milhem to be men of peace. They personally support a peaceful settlement on the basis of the relevant United Nations Resolutions and are opposed to terrorism and violence. I know that they will reaffirm their position during their stay in London.
I hope that this will be seen as a fresh and constructive step to support King Hussein's initiative. That is its purpose.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your questions![fo 2]
Question (Strong Accent, Sometimes Difficult to understand!)
I want to ask one concrete question. His Majesty King Hussein announced, in the presence of yourself two days ago, that what is new in the Jordanian-Palestinian initiative is that it is based on two major issues. The first one is that the parties of the complete … . of the settlement, and that will pave the way for the participation of the PLO in the peace process. The second—as His Majesty said—is that the parties should seek peace on an equivalent basis to reach a balanced and equivalent solution under the auspices of an international conference.
Now, Mrs. Thatcher, I want to ask if you do agree with this concrete and definite Jordanian Arab position and if not, excuse me to ask why, especially Great Britain is one of the five members of IFC. Thank you!
I have just announced a fresh step in the Middle Eastern peace process. I hope you will look at it in a positive and constructive light.
I think it is very important to get what I have hitherto called the first step of the process, namely the meeting between the United States and the joint Palestinian and Jordanian delegation—to get that set up and to get that happening.
As you know, we have not been successful in that so far. I hope that the step which I have announced will in fact help United States to take a similar step.
Now, just supposing we concentrate on taking the next step in order to get that meeting off the ground. That is what[fo 3] I am doing, and I hope that what we are doing will help United States to take a similar step.
Question (Lady from united press international)
Mrs. Thatcher, are you hopeful that this meeting that you have just announced will help for a similar meeting between the same delegation to take place with the United States or for the delegation that Mr. Murphy was initially supposed to meet with?
No. We have chosen our own way. It is for the United States to decide on the names, from the list which has been submitted, which will make up the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation—the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation—which they will meet. We have decided on our own names. We hope that this will bring about—or help to bring nearer—a meeting of the other Jordanian-Palestinian delegation which we expect and hope the United States will meet.
The two are separate.
Prime Minister, if one of these gentlemen is a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and one is a member of the PNC, does this mean that the British Government is recognising the PLO?[fo 4]
No! This a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Mr. Milhem and Mr. Khoury are certainly members of the PLO. They are members whom I have indicated in my statement who do not support violence and will make that abundantly clear, and they are members who support the relevant United Nations Resolutions. We are meeting a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation which consists of those two people on the Palestinian side, who take that view, and will make it very clear that they do so.
Prime Minister, do you expect any active role taken by the American Administration before the summit meeting in Geneva or, rather, would the United Kingdom take any role before and after this meeting? Thank you!
Well, I have already indicated—we are still on the Middle East? It is very difficult to hear your question—would you repeat it again with the microphone a bit nearer!
Do you expect any active role taken by the American Administration before the Geneva summit meeting with the Soviet Union?
That is for the United States to consider. It is not for me. I will let my views be known to the United States, of course, before.[fo 5]
Gerald ???? (BBC Radio)
Prime Minister, do you have any reason to believe that the United States would be persuaded by this action that you are planning to take? In other words, is there any suggestion that it will not be just an empty gesture on the part of Britain, but the United States might indeed be encouraged?
I do not believe it is an empty gesture on the part of Britain. Indeed, I would not have taken it had I thought it was an empty gesture. It is meant positively to support King Hussein's initiative for peace in the Middle East. That initiative is going very much more slowly than we had thought. One of the reasons that it is held up is because the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation which was to meet Ambassador Murphy has not yet been defined and we hope that this will help the United States to follow our initiative and meet their own Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and therefore choose ... they have already indicated that two names will be acceptable … . choose two more names from those which have been submitted.
Ian Murray ("The Times")
Prime Minister, can you say when this meeting is likely to take place and what sort of subjects would be on the agenda?
Well, [Sir Geoffrey Howe] the Foreign Secretary will go very shortly to the United Nations, so he will be out of London for a time. I expect, therefore, that it will be some time in October. The Middle East[fo 6] peace process will be on the agenda.
Did your visit to Jordan give you the opportunity to get to know the point of view of the Palestinians on the Middle East issue, being one of the few leaders who visited a Palestinian camp?
Well indeed, I think you were perhaps there when they made their views very clear indeed, but they also when I was going round. As you know, there were one or two very effective spokesmen and spokeswomen for the Palestinian cause and then they made their views very clear at the meeting.
It is a very sombre experience to go round one of those camps. As I indicated when I was there, one really did marvel at the cheerfulness and the spirit of those people and the way in which they have tackled their problems. It is another reason why one tries to do something to help to take the peace process forward, because until we really get into that process there is going to be very little hope for those people.
John Wright (Associated Press)
Mrs. Thatcher, one of the reasons the United States has said it is baulking at this is it is not sure where this meeting is going. It is not sure what the purpose would be. What do you think the purpose of this next step would be or do you think it matters that the purpose be defined?[fo 7]
I do not see the difficulty in defining the purpose if you are talking about the first step. If you are talking about the first step, you are talking about the first step in solving the Middle Eastern problem from the Arab-Israeli viewpoint.
Now, you have to take a first step. As you know, a number of steps had been envisaged. None of them will go ahead unless the first step happens.
I do not think there is a great deal of time and I think it very important that that first step goes ahead fairly quickly. After that, one hopes that the PLO will find it possible to accept Resolution 242 and its associated Resolutions and to reject violence. And then, of course, that opens up all kinds of possibilities for close negotiations.
Mrs. Thatcher, how long has the British Government been thinking of taking an initiative of this kind and could you say whether you think it would be more advantageous if you were to meet the joint delegation rather than the Foreign Secretary? Would that not encourage the United States even more?
We have been considering the matter for some weeks, indeed months, and that is what enables me to—having considered it fully with some colleagues—make the announcement now. I think the first step should be that Sir Geoffrey Howe should meet the delegation.[fo 8]
Mrs. Thatcher, you declared support King Hussein's initiative. An integral part of that initiative is the call for an international peace conference under UN auspices and a Soviet role.
Do you still have misgivings on those two points?
I think that we differ on that point. I recognise and am the first to recognise—as I believe the United States also recognises—that you do need some international framework before direct negotiations could go ahead. We have not yet sorted out precisely the nature of that framework and so I cannot go any further than that.
To change the subject for a moment, Prime Minister, you may be aware that in England today Mr. Enoch Powell has spoken following the Handsworth riot and he has suggested that the African and Asian population of Britain should be reduced by a Government programme of repatriation. Do you regard that as a helpful or unhelpful statement at this time?
I have heard that Mr. Powell either has or is going to make a speech. I do not know what he said and should not dream of commenting on a speech I have not seen.[fo 9]
Roger Matthews ("Financial Times")
Prime Minister, could you tell me when you informed King Hussein of your decision for Sir Geoffrey to receive the joint delegation and what his reaction to your decision was?
No, I do not in fact reveal precisely when these things happen. Obviously, I did discuss the matter with King Hussein and I believe that he would find the small initiative that we have taken welcome.
Could you please tell us more about the weapon deals that you have with Jordan of £270 million? What kind of weapons are you going to sell to Jordan?
We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering some £270 million. The precise details are yet to be worked out. We never give details, actually, of the weapons.
Ian Black ("The Guardian")
Mrs. Thatcher, may I ask if the American Administration has been informed of your intention to set up a meeting between Sir Geoffrey and the joint delegation, and if so whether there has been any response that you can tell us about?[fo 10]
It is our custom to let our American friends know in advance of our intentions on these matters. That custom has been followed. We have had no reaction.
Prime Minister, have you or any of your officials met the Palestinian members of this delegation during your stay in Jordan?
No, we have not. Not consciously. I mean, you ask me if I meet various people. When you shake hands with something like 2,000 people, you never quite know! As far as I am aware, not, and I have every reason to think not.
Mrs. Thatcher, I would like to ask you: the economic relations between Jordan and the United Kingdom have been for a long time through what is called the "Maastricht cooperation", so in light of the increasing importance of Jordan as a centre in the area, do you support, or would your Government take an initiative for a cooperation agreement between Britain and Jordan through the EEC?
I have not got in mind a specific cooperation agreement. We do, as you know, in fact cooperation in practice in many ways and I hope that those ways and the number of occasions on which[fo 11] they operate will be increased.
It is our intention to be very active in cooperation with Jordan in many spheres.
Question (Same Lady)
... sign a cooperation agreement?
I am not sure that cooperation agreements really enhance the cooperation. They are a visible sign but I think there are better visible signs at the moment, and I have seen some of them this morning on the three visits that I have made this morning.
Nigel Hawkes ("The Observer")
Prime Minister, can you explain to us why you have chosen the two names you have chosen from the Palestinian side, rather than names on the original list proposed for talks with Mr. Murphy? Would it not have been a more effective gesture if you had agreed to see some people that were named in the original list?
No, not necessarily. We wish to make our own contribution. We knew that those two people and those two names were the names of men who had rejected violence publicly and that they were people who supported the relevant United Nations Resolutions, and that is why we chose them.