How do you view the Saudi-British relationship at present and what topics do you expect to come up for discussion during the forthcoming visit of H.M. King Fahd to Britain?
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain are excellent. We have common interests in peace and stability in the Middle East. The Al Yamamah Project for the sale of Tornado and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia has done much to focus Saudi attention on Britain and British attention on Saudi Arabia. Not only have there been exchanges of Royal and Ministerial visits, but last year there was the first visit to Saudi Arabia by a British Parliamentary delegation for ten years. We hope to encourage more exchanges of this sort which contribute to deeper understanding between the British and Saudi peoples. The recent formation of a Saudi-British Society will also help to foster personal contacts. We shall aim to discuss major regional issues such as the Arab/Israel dispute and the Iran/Iraq conflict. We shall also discuss bilateral matters and relations between the EEC and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
How important a role do you think Saudi Arabia plays at a regional and international level?
Because of its economic importance and its standing as guardian of the Holy Places of Islam Saudi Arabia occupies a very special place in Middle East affairs. Its political significance is demonstrated by the Fez initiative, which was based upon the Fahd plan. Saudi Arabia also provides economic assistance to a large number of states in the region. Internationally, Saudi Arabia also has a significant role to play. Saudi Arabia was a founder member of the United Nations and plays its full part there and in other international fora. It is a key member of OPEC. Saudi Arabia is also an important trading partner for countries as diverse as Japan, the United States and Western Europe. [end p162]
Britain has so far been unwilling to coordinate its policies on oil pricing and production with those of OPEC, thereby contributing to the recent sharp drop in prices. Given the adverse effects this has had on OPEC economies and the knock on effect on the British economy, is there any likelihood of Britain changing its attitude?
UK policy has not contributed to the fall in oil prices. Our North Sea oil production remains about the same today as in 1984 when oil prices were near $30/barrel. Production remains on a plateau and is highly unlikely to increase in the future. We have always made it clear however that the Government would not intervene in North Sea oil production decisions. We believe these must be a matter for the commercial judgement of the oil companies. The North Sea is a hostile environment with high costs. Companies must be assured that the government will not arbitrarily intervene in production if they are to continue to make such major commitments far in advance of revenues. We naturally share the concern of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members about the harmful effects of oil market volatility for both producer and consumer states. For our part we are careful to avoid any actions which might add to such volatility. But for the reasons I have explained I am convinced that Government intervention in North Sea production far from enhancing the stability we all want would in fact undermine confidence and lead to greater uncertainty and volatility.
Following the Brussels statement of support for an international peace conference on the Middle East, what do you think are the next steps that need to be taken?
The Twelve—both collectively and individually—will remain in close contact with the parties, encouraging them in their efforts to reach agreement on outstanding issues.
Do you think Britain has a particular role to play as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, and in the same context what contribution do you believe the Soviet Union can make?
We stand ready to contribute to the peace process in any way possible, including through our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Javier Perez de CuellarThe Secretary-General is currently exploring options for progress with all the permanent members, including the Soviet Union. [end p163]
The Brussels Declaration reaffirmed continued EEC support for Palestinian self determination and the association of the PLO with any negotiations. Do you, Mrs Thatcher, still believe the PLO has a role to play, and do you think Yasser Arafat 's latest proposals for a united Arab delegation would go some way to solving the problem of Palestinian representation?
The statement by Foreign Ministers does not mention these points directly. It does however refer back to the well-established principles of the 1980 Venice Declaration. We stand by these and by the Venice formulations on the principles which all parties, including the PLO, will have to recognise if they are to join the negotiations. These include UNSCRs 242 and 228, the unambiguous renunciation of the use of violence and recognition of Israel's right to secure existence, as well as the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
Mr Arafat 's proposals for a united Arab delegation is not a new one. It is for the parties to decide whether it represents an acceptable way forward.
Middle East peace initiatives have foundered in the past because there has been no viable mechanism for implementing them. How worried are you that the same thing might happen again, and what would you propose as such a mechanism?
It is clear that a negotiated settlement must be just and comprehensive if it is to work. We stand by our commitment to participate within the framework of a comprehensive settlement in a system of concrete and binding international guarantees. These concerns could clearly form part of the agenda for any international conference. [end p164]
Do you agree that many of the terrorist actions in recent times, unjustified as they may be, emanate from the chronic injustices and that therefore the only effective way of combatting terrorism is to remove the causes of this injustice?
Of course we must tackle the causes of terrorism. UK stand ready to play its part in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. But no cause can justify terrorist methods.
The most effective way to combat terrorism is by strengthening day-to-day cooperation amongst the police and security agencies of like-minded countries. We must bring terrorists to justice.
Western countries have applied measures against terrorism and against those states whose involvement in terrorist crimes has been proven. Our aim is not to punish but to persuade those states to change their policy. We continue to look for evidence that these authorities will cease their support for terrorist groups. We look for effective action from them.
Britain, in recent months, has been in the forefront of countries urging an improvement in living conditions in the Occupied Territories. How satisfied are you that Israel is cooperating in this area, over the matter of Palestinian access to EEC markets?
The Commission of the European Communities is having continuing discussions with the Israeli authorities regarding practical steps necessary for implementing the EC's decision on access for Palestinian products. We shall continue to monitor the situation closely, and hope the remaining difficulties can soon be resolved. [end p165]
How important do you regard an early restoration of Syrian-British diplomatic relations, and what conditions would Syria have to fulfil before this could be achieved? Are you ready to increase the number of diplomats in both countries, should Syria so request?
Any improvement in relations will depend on substantial evidence over time that there has been a change in Syrian policy on terrorism.
Any request for an increase in staff at our respective interests sections would be considered in the light of the state of relations at the time.
Now that Syrian forces are in control of West Beirut and many other parts of Lebanon, does the UK still maintain contacts with Lebanese groups who might help with the release of Terry Waite and other hostages, or can contacts only be made through the Syrians?
John GrayOur Ambassador and his staff in Beirut continue to maintain regular contact with all those in the Lebanon who might be able to help over Mr Terry Waite and British citizens held in the Lebanon. These contacts do not depend on Syria. We certainly hope that all those in a position to help will do so.
What chances do you see for an international effort to bring the Iran/Iraq war to an early end through negotiations and what can Britain and its EEC partners play towards that end?
Unfortunately there are no firm indications that an end to the conflict is in immediate prospect. However, we take every opportunity to encourage progress towards a peaceful settlement, particularly in concert with our EC partners and the UN. We believe that the best hope lies in the continued willingness of Javier Perez de Cuellarthe UN Secretary General to use his good offices to try to bring about a settlement, and we strongly support his efforts. [end p166]
In your coming visit to Moscow, do you expect to discuss regional problems such as the Iran/Iraq war and the Arab Israeli conflict and do you think the Soviet Union has a role to play?
Yes, I expect to discuss a range of regional questions in Moscow, including the Iran/Iraq conflict and the Arab-Israel dispute. The Soviet Union, which is geographically close to the region, obviously has an interest in these questions and shares the responsibility to bring about just and lasting solutions.
Following the Irangate scandal, and the damage done to the credibility of the American government in the Middle East, do you see more room for cooperation between the EEC and the Arab world?
America's relations with the Arab World are still strong, and indeed it is important for us all that they should be. There is much misguided talk of Europe “substituting” for the US in the Middle East. The US relationship with the region will remain vital, as will the distinct, long-established European relationship. The clearest indication of that important relationship, the Euro-Arab Dialogue, is entering a more active phase, and we very much welcome this as a pledge of our commitment to future cooperation between the two regions. There is always scope for greater cooperation between the EC and the Arab states. We have ourselves been urging the European Commission to produce a mandate for the negotiation of an EC/GCC Agreement. [end p167]
It is generally hoped that your forthcoming talks with Gorbachev in Moscow will help the process of arms control. What do you now see as the main obstacles to an agreement. Would your government accept as part of the US-USSR arms control agreement inspection of British nuclear sites?
I shall certainly use my visit to Moscow to explore ways of making progress in the arms control process. But the nuclear arms negotiations in Geneva are bilateral between the United States and Soviet Union so it is not for me to comment on the details of the negotiations.
President Reagan and I agreed at Camp David in November 1986 on the priorities in the arms control process and these are still valid: —a 50%; reduction in US and Soviet strategic offensive weapons —an agreement on intermediate range nuclear forces with constraints on shorter-range systems —a complete ban on chemical weapons
My Government welcomed Mr Gorbachev 's statement that he would single out an agreement on intermediate range missiles without any linkage with SDI. But I have emphasized that we cannot look at any single aspect of arms control in isolation. An INF agreement must provide for restraints on those shorter-range systems which could be used to circumvent an INF agreement. And there must be follow-on negotiations to deal further with those systems and address the imbalance in short-range systems overall. The Soviet Union currently has a substantially higher number of these systems than NATO.
We also need to tackle the conventional imbalance: as nuclear weapons are reduced measures to deal with disparities in conventional forces become even more important.
On the question of verification I have stated that effective verification is essential to any arms control agreements. If this involves inspection in relation to US missile deployments at Greenham Common then this is acceptable. [end p168]
Finally Mrs Thatcher, do you expect to call an early general election and do you hope to set a new record by becoming Prime Minister for a third consecutive term?
I have not made up my mind when the next general election will be. But, yes I am looking forward to a full third term.