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1983 Oct 26 We
Archive (Reagan Library)

Grenada: Reagan phone call to Thatcher (record of conversation) [declassified 2000]

Document type:thatcher record
Document kind:Archive
Venue:White House - House of Commons
Source:Reagan Library: Executive Secretariat NSC: Records Country File (UK vol.IV)
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Declassified 21 July 2000. MT took the call in her room at the House of Commons during an emergency debate on Grenada. She recalled later that she was "not in the sunniest of moods" at the time (Downing Street Years, p332). "There was not much I felt able to say and so I more or less held my peace, but I was glad to have received the telephone call" (p333).
Importance ranking:Key
Word count:1,561 words
Themes:Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (USSR and successor states), Defence (general), Security Services

Declassified S98-002#523
By CAS, NARA, Date 7/21/00

The White House Washington

Secret

Memorandum of Telephone Conversation

PARTICIPANTS: President Ronald Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain
DATE, TIME: October 26, 1983
AND PLACE: 1:28 – 1:38 pm

Prime Minister Thatcher:
Hello, Margaret Thatcher here.

President Reagan:
If I were there Margaret, I'd throw my hat in the door before I came in.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
There’s no need to do that.

President Reagan:
We regret very much the embarrassment caused you, and I would like to tell you what the story is from our end. I was awakened at 3:00 in the morning, supposedly on a golfing vacation down in Georgia. The Secretary of State [ George Shultz] was there. We met in pajamas out in the living room of our suite because of this urgent appeal from the Organisation of East Caribbean States pleading with us to support them in Grenada. We immediately got a group going back here in Washington, which we shortly joined, on planning and so forth. It was literally a matter of hours. We were greatly concerned, because of a problem here – and not at your end at all – but here. We have had a nagging problem of a loose source, a leak here. At the same time we also had immediate surveillance problem [sic] – without their knowing it – of what was happening on Cuba to make sure that we could get ahead of them if they were movingl and indeed, they were making some tentative moves. They sent some kind of command personnel into Grenada.

Incidentally, let me tell you that we were being so careful here that we did not even give a firm answer to the Caribbean States. We told them we were planning, but we were so afraid of this source and what it would do; it could almost abort the mission, with the lives that could have endangered.

When word came of your concerns – by the time I got it – the zero hour had passed, and our forces were on their way. The time difference made it later in the day when you learned of it. For us over here it was only 5:30 in the morning when they finally landed and at last we could talk plainly. But I want you to know it was no feeling on our part of lack of confidence at your end. It’s at our end. I guess it’s the first thing we have done since I've been President in which the secret was actually kept until [fo 1] it happened. But our military and the planning only had [sic] – I really have to call it a matter of hours – to put this together. I think they did a magnificent job. Your Governor General [Sir Paul Scoon] and his wife are safe. One of our primary goals was to immediately sequester him for his safety. He is safe in our hands down there.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
I know about sensitivity, because of the Falklands. That’s why I would not speak for very long even on the secret telephone to you. Because even that can be broken. I'm very much aware of sensitivities. The action is underway now and we just hope it will be successful.

President Reagan:
We’re sure it is. It’s going beautifully. The two landings immediately took the two airfields. Then we managed to secure that medical school, St. Georges Medical School [sic], where we have about 800 students. We've moved on, but there is still some combat. All those several hundred Cuban construction workers down there must have been military personnel or reserves, because, as I told you, we got word that a little group had arrived before we could get anything underway. They looked like they were pretty prominent Cubans because they were being treated with great deferrence. They turned out to be a military command and the opposition that still remains, as the last word we have here – in about three spots on the Island – is led by these Cubans. They are the leading combat forces, not the Grenadian forces. We have captured 250 of them already.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
Well let’s hope it’s soon over Ron, and that you manage to get a democracy restored.

President Reagan:
We’re very hopeful that it is going to be short and then your role is going to be very critical, as we all try to return Grenada to democracy under that constitution that you left them. The leader that was murdered [ Maurice Bishop] , and of course those that murdered him, have abandoned that constitution.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
Well the constitution, I'm afraid, was suspended in 1979.

President Reagan:
Yes, that’s when Bishop made his coup and took over. We think he was murdered because he began to make some noises as if he would like to get better acquainted with us. He no more got back on the Island – he was here and visited our State Department – and he was murdered. The people who murdered him him are even further over in the Cuban camp. So things would be worse, not better, for the people on Grenada.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
That is right. Is there any news about Coard, his rival? [fo 2]

President Reagan:
No. The man that seems to be out in front is named Austin. We believe that the same thing has happened to Coard that happened to Bishop. We won't be sure of that until we get the situation controlled, but we have the radio stations, so we can communicate with the people. They have just these three spots and we’re very optimistic. There have been very limited casualties, certainly on our side. We don’t want a lot of casualties on the Grenadian side. The troops that are out in front now seemed [sic] to be those several hundred Cubans. We know that you and through the Queen’s Governor General there – all of us together – can help them get back to that constitution and a democracy.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
I just hope Ron, that it will be very soon and that they will manage to put together a government which can get back to democracy.

President Reagan:
Those people on those other islands are pretty remarkable. I had with me Prime Minister Charles when I made the announcement to the press here that are our forces are on shore and D-Day has happened.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
I know her. She’s a wonderful person.

President Reagan:
She certainly is. She’s captured our city by storm. She’s right up on the Hill meeting with some of our Congress right now. And then, Adams, from Barbados, we are getting him up here. We’ve got both of them on some of our television shows so they can talk to the people. We are getting him on, we've had her on. He’s a remarkable man also.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
He is a very cultured man and very wise. He’s been in politics for a long time.

President Reagan:
Yes. Mrs Charles doesn’t even have an army. She did away with an army completely. She has a police force. She told me that her constables in her police force were coming in from out in the country and asking her if they couldn't go with the forces to Grenada.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
They wanted to help.

President Reagan:
They all feel – and dating from the days when they were under the Crown – she used the expression: kith and kin. I don’t know if that’s one of our expressions or one of yours.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
It’s one of ours. [fo 3]

President Reagan:
Well, we still use it here. We still have the heritage. She used that several times to describe their feelings. They have no feeling of the people on the other islands being foreigners. They still think of themselves as all one group. We want to put them out ahead in helping with the restoration of a government, so there will be some taint of big old Uncle Sam trying to impose a government on them.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
There is a lot of work to do yet, Ron.

President Reagan:
Oh yes.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
And it will be very tricky.

President Reagan:
We think that the military part is going to end very shortly.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
That will be very, very good news. And then if we return to democracy that will be marvellous.

President Reagan:
As I say, I'm sorry for any embarrassment that we caused you, but please understand that it was just our fear of our own weakness over here with regard to secrecy.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
It was very kind of you to have rung, Ron.

President Reagan:
Well, my pleasure.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
I appreciate it. How is Nancy?

President Reagan:
Just fine.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
Good. Give her my love.

President Reagan:
I shall.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
I must return to this debate in the House. It is a bit tricky.

President Reagan:
All right. Go get ’em. Eat ’em alive.

Prime Minister Thatcher:
Good-bye.