Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1981 Apr 6 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference for Arab Correspondents

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: ?No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Exact time and place uncertain. In places the transcript is barely legible.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5541
Themes: Defence (general), Monetary policy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Terrorism
Note: The legibility of this transcript is very poor in places

Prime Minister

We are very much looking forward to our visit to the Gulf. As you will be aware, we have been asking many of our senior Ministers to go out there to see the several governments. A number of people thought that after we left the Gulf in 1971, we were not taking a sufficiently active interest in the area. The Queen, of course, went out in 1979, really, I believe, to start a new chapter, and we have since then tried to increase the number of visits, My visit will be the next one to demonstrate that we still retain the tremendous historical interest that we have in the area. It is an extremely important place for really the whole future of world peace and stability: we very much recognise that peace and stability is in the hands of the states in the area themselves. We welcome their efforts to get together to ensure peace and stability. Perhaps we in the other parts of the world can equally help to ensure peace by seeing that we do everything we can to ensure that a confrontation does not arise in the Gulf, because that would be contrary to the interests of everyone. [end p1]

So that is the general background: to demonstrate clearly our intense interest in the future of the region. It is, if I might gently point out, a much greater interest than an oil interest. It was a historical interest; we were in the Gulf long before it was important as an oil region and we do retain that historical interest, a traditional interest and a friendly interest in everything that happens there.

Now, I wonder if you would like to question me. You know, broadly speaking, the direction and timing. We shall be arriving on what is for us Easter Sunday, the 19th in Riyadh and we will be over two days in Riyadh. Then we are on to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. From there we go to Muscat, the Salala and from there we come to Qatar and from [words missing].

Kuwait and Bahrain we are very much hoping to do in September. We felt that it would be rather much to do everything in the time available and we would [words missing] spend a little bit longer. We did not want to compress the visit too much, and so we are hoping to visit, wanting to visit both Kuwait and Bahrain in September. Otherwise, we would have to compress it too much and I did not feel that would be fair to each and every country there and as you know, Parliament does not like it if I am away too long! [end p2]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, how do you describe the bilateral relation with Saudi Arabia?

Prime Minister

I hope that after the difficulties we had, which I think we need not dwell upon—with the hope that our relations are back to normal and, indeed, that we shall make every effort to put them on the most friendly possible basis. They are already good after that difficulty we had. We want them to be as close as possible.

We very much recognise everything that Saudi Arabia is doing. Her influence is very great. She is being very helpful in recognising the difficulty if the price of oil were to rise further. She and the other States in the Gulf are together trying to secure their own future, their own defence, and we recognise all of this. It is very important to us.

Question

If Saudi Arabia, for example, asked for weapons, is Britain ready to supply it with such advanced weapons?

Prime Minister

Well. doubtless some of our delegation will have discussions [words missing] has just been [end p3] out there. I have not yet seen him since his return but I will be seeing him before I go, to see what is the latest news about the wishes of King Khalidthe King of Saudi Arabia in that regard.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, what do you have in mind as a priority in going to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, the Middle East issue or the security of the Gulf? What do you expect from the governments there? To give priority to which issue?

Prime Minister

I think I would say myself that one gains tremendously from personal contact and that there is absolutely no substitute for that. Personal contact within the countries of the Gulf.

As you know, we regularly see rulers and leading princes when they come here. I have not been to each of those countries and it is absolutely vital that as Prime Minister here I know how they see things from their countries' standpoint and for that purpose there is absolutely no substitute for going to the country and seeing them there and seeing for oneself—and I would think that that is the most important thing.

You know, if you are to get your world judgments right, you must know things through the eyes of those who live there. Who are responsible for that area; who are [words missing] [end p4] the responsibilities for the peace and stability of the area and therefore, my main point is to meet them and talk politics with them personally.

Of course, I expect things like the Middle East will be raised. Of course, some of the other problems about which we are all very much concerned will be raised. But when you go to an area as important as the Gulf; you do really wish to get to know that area and make certain that you are fully seized of their views and that you take all of those into account, and that we know how best to cooperate in the future.

Question

Although you have made it quite clear more than once in your introduction and now, but I still believe that in the Arabian Gulf we need a statement concerning the RDF deployment force in the Gulf. The reaction of the Arabian Gulf leaders was that domination, escalation of tension between the super powers and the creation of a Western zone of influence is what we believe in the Arabian Gulf this idea of a Western rapid deployment force in the Gulf. Would the Prime Minister please clarify your point of view?

Prime Minister

But you see, a rapid deployment force is not specifically with reference to the Gulf in any way. One does not [end p5] know where there might be trouble in the world. If the United States were to form a rapid deployment force, then I think that we would wish to make a modest contribution. It would be available for those people who wished to call upon it. There would be no question of sending it if people did not wish it to go. If you have not got one, it could not go, whatever the circumstances or whatever the calls.

I do not think there is any question of a rapid deployment force being stationed in the Gulf. There never was.

Question

Prime Minister, do you believe that it is necessary to form such a force now under the present circumstances?

Prime Minister

Well, the lead country would obviously be the United States, if she felt that it would be wise to have one. If you get something coming up quickly and you have not got one, then no-one can call upon it. Of course, you can make other arrangements—we all of us have forces, obviously. We all have them trained to meet certain eventualities and some may say that is enough, but it would seem a reasonable insurance policy to have such a force [end p6] to be available for circumstances if countries in difficulty wished to call upon it. If they made a call upon it and it was there, it could help. If it were not there, then of course, we would just have to re-deploy ordinary forces should others wish to call upon them. But there was never any question of having a rapid deployment force stationed in the Gulf. Indeed, the word “deployment” means that they should be able to get from their normal place, their normal country, to whatever country wishes to call upon them, quickly.

Question

Prime Minister, is this a reversal of the East of Suez policy that Britain has taken after the withdrawal from the Gulf?

Prime Minister

No. I find it difficult to know why you ask that question. We are not talking, you see, so much about defence of the Gulf. The defence of the Gulf is really a matter for the Gulf States and if I might respectfully [word missing] they are taking steps to ensure peace and security in the Gulf, both separately and together. None of us was thinking of stationing troops there. [end p7]

Question

You are not taking part in the American task force, or rapid deployment force, at all?

Prime Minister

No. Look! At the moment, there is no rapid deployment force. Should the Americans wish to set up one, a rapid deployment force is not necessarily stationed in other parts of the world any different from where troops are stationed at the moment. It means that you give special attention to the readiness to move quickly, should various parts of the world call upon you to help. So it could be moved rapidly to other areas should they call upon it, should they need it.

Question

But this is why the Americans at the same time are asking for bases in Egypt and Somalia, for this purpose isn't it?

Prime Minister

There is at the moment no rapid deployment force. The point is simply this: if other countries should have a need for something quickly, you can help them if they call for it and you can help them quickly. If you have no [end p8] such force, you cannot respond to a call as quickly.

Question

Are you going to raise this issue …   .

Prime Minister

I shall not raise it, because there is at the moment no such force and as far as I am aware, the United States has not taken a decision to create such a force. As you know, some countries do have forces which they can parachute in more easily.

Question

The Arab World leaders, including the Arabian Gulf leaders, who will be meeting quite soon. They regard solving the Palestinian issue as the most immediate and urgent problem. Does the Prime Minister and her Government share this view?

Prime Minister

We have been trying to solve that problem for quite some time and as you know, we played some small part in the efforts (to that end). We shall continue our efforts to try to solve it. It is not an easy one to solve, but we must carry on and see if we can solve it, I think perhaps together with the United States. Our efforts were not meant [end p9] to be in competition with the United States; they were meant to be complementary to those of the United States and, indeed, some of our friends in the area are constantly saying can we not be of some influence in the United States in trying to make it clear that a solution is urgent, and we shall continue our efforts to help to try to solve it.

Question (Very faint)

Prime Minister, can I pick up this point? Recently, you have been to Washington and General Haig will be coming at the end of this week. Does your Government go along with America in thinking that the main issue nowadays is the Soviet threat to the Western interests in the Gulf and not the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Prime Minister

I do not know if there is any point in trying to say one is more important than the other. Both are problems, and we have to deal with all problems, and I would [illegible word] they are not wholly unrelated. The Arab-Israeli problem has been a longstanding one; we have been seeking to solve it for some time. We shall continue to seek to solve it. We are very conscious that until it is solved, the Palestinian problem will be a continuing source of tension in the area. [end p10]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, may I just follow on this point, please?

What the West sees as a Soviet threat is a danger that perhaps the Arabs see as something that lies in the future: that the Soviet Union and maybe some of its satellites will infringe on certain parts of the Arab World. Now, on the other hand, there is the other super power, which is America, which through its satellites, Israel—Israel, that is fully subsidised by America—has already fulfilled that threat of occupation of Arab lands. There is one danger that is lying in the future, but there is a danger that has already materialised in the Arab-Israeli conflict and therefore, do you not think that the priority really should be given to the solving of the problem of Palestine?

Prime Minister

But I think there are efforts being made—and which will continue to be made. I am aware that the [illegible word] between Egypt and Israel did not meet with universal acclaim among other countries, but they did lead at least to some territory which has now been given back to Egypt. So that was a step in giving up some territory which had been acquired during the Israeli-Arab wars. So some territory was given up and, indeed, the oil wells were part of that territory which was given up, and so there are some efforts [end p11] going on to try to solve it and some territory which has been relinquished.

The problem now is how best to continue that process. We were across in the States and it is quite clear that the United States has not decided the best way to continue that process and to carry it forward. The US is very much aware that the process needs to be continued—because exactly as you have said, the problem is longstanding and needs to be solved. It is equally clear that the United States wish to consult other people before they decide how best to go ahead, and as you know, Al Haig in the Middle East now, with a view, I would say, to seeing for himself before he and the Ronald ReaganPresident decide how best the process can be taken forward.

What I thought was very good news for us all was the degree to which the United States is consulting before she makes up her mind as to the best way ahead, and I thought that was very good news for the Middle East, for the Gulf, for Europe and for the United States.

Question (very faint)

Going back to the security of the Gulf. I work in the Gulf. A lot of people there are alarmed with what was reported that the Press quoted you as saying in the United States. Pressed about this point, Mr. Nott said in Dubai that the press has misinterpreted to a certain extent. Do you think there is a justification for their alarm…   .the alarm of [end p12] these people? The second point….

Prime Minister

May I answer that? On what I said, no. [justification for alarm]

Question

The other point: if the United States decides to store or install nuclear arms at Diego Garcia, would your Government consider this step?

Prime Minister

Any such thing would be a matter for consultation between the United States and ourselves. Everything that is done there is a matter for consultation. They do not take such steps without consulting us.

Question

Britain has been playing [illegible words] especially through the European Community, in trying to solve the Middle East problem, and it seems now that people, especially in the Arab World on our part, are more or less all [illegible words] having people like Lord Carrington trying to solve the problem very soon.

Are you as optimistic? Do you think something [illegible word] will come out from Lord Carrington 's mission which starts in July? [end p13]

Prime Minister

Lord Carrington will be President of the Foreign Ministers of the EEC. I think we have to wait for two things: first, before we make any kind of judgment about what will happen…first, for the United States to make up her mind about the best way ahead, and secondly, we are not, I think, likely to make very great strides before the Israeli elections. Elections do have quite an effect on the speed at which one can go ahead with anything. That happens in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Holland or anywhere else.

So I think we will need to be patient a little bit longer before we see the way ahead. When we do, then it is very difficult to say whether it can go ahead quickly. In view of the complexity of the situation—and it is complex and after all, the Palestinian people are by no means confined to the West Bank as you know—I would not expect it to be solved with very [illegible words] because it is such a complex problem. What we have been trying to do, as far as the European initiative is concerned, is to try to sort out some of the things which would need to be done, and it is not [illegible word] as you know, Foreign Ministers [illegible words] round consulting with the various States to see how they would interpret some of the phrases and clauses that are used and how they see the way ahead step by step.

It is not a thing that [illegible words] [end p14] few weeks' consultation. It is enormously complicated, and will take a time. With the best will in the world, it will take a time.

Question

Do you think the Reagan Administration, with whom you have apparently very good relations, would accept the European initiative or would let the Europeans try their best in trying to solve the problem?

Prime Minister

I do not think we see them separately in any way, and I think it would be wrong if they were. They would be less likely to succeed if the initiatives were wholly isolated from one another. After all, we are all consulting with the same people, all of the States in the area who have a particular interest in it. It would be a pity if we cannot work together.

Question

[illegible words], but the EEC is [illegible word] engaged in trying to formulate an initiative for the Middle East, but at the end of the day and in spite of all the diplomatic skills of the EEC, they would have to face the fact that America, whether anybody likes it or not, is [end p15] the one country that wholly finances and arms Israel and therefore it is the only country that has a big leverage and a big influence over Israel. So to my mind, what matters really is how much influence can Britain exercise with the U.S. in changing its opinion?

Prime Minister

I think we all recognise that you will not get a solution to the Arab-Israeli problem without the United States. You just will not, and I think we are both saying the same thing in a different way. I think, too, the United States is very anxious to solve it as well, and we all recognise that a source of tension in the area is the last thing you would wish to have in the present state of the world. One is there to try to gradually solve the areas of tension. There is too much going wrong in the world at the moment and one wants to solve the areas of [illegible word] and I do not think there is any difference between us on that.

Even when one has accepted that, you still have enormous difficulties on working out the practical problems and even when you talk about self-determination or a homeland for the Palestinian people, first you have to look at who are the Palestinian people; how many should go [illegible word] who should have a vote, who should have a say; [end p16] the steps be to be taken in order to achieve that; what would be the secure boundaries. We shall never get a settlement unless both sides recognise the legitimate rights and aspirations of the other. That is, Israel recognises the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people recognise Israel's right to live behind secure borders and in peace and everyone wishes to have peace and stability in the area.

There are problems, as you know, on the Golan Heights; there are problems with Jerusalem; there are problems with the West Bank; there are problems with Gaza. There are problems with Palestinian people still in Syria, in Jordan, all over the Gulf, so I only have to start to enumerate the problems for you to realise that each and every one will take a time for the detail to be sorted out and, indeed, the detail took quite a time between Egypt and Israel. The times of the withdrawal, the times of the oil being handed back to Egypt; certain arrangements were made for some of it to be sold at world price.

You know, it is much easier for us to talk about it than it is actually to take the practical steps to solve each and every problem satisfactorily.

Question

I think, as you said, we are always talking about the problem and it is easier to talk about it. Until now, we waited for the American election and after the American [end p17] election now we are waiting for the Israeli election and we do not know which election will come afterwards and talk and send delegations to try and find the definition for certain words and we are on the same circle I think. So how do you imagine the main elements of the solution and also what about the PLO for example? Are the Americans ready to recognise the PLO and tackle the problem?

Prime Minister

I do not think we can see the precise way ahead, even though we have been working on it and going round to the separate States with our ideas and talking about them. We cannot see a clear way ahead until we have had discussions with the United States about the way in which she would like to proceed. And the way in which she would like to proceed I have not the slightest shadow of doubt will be influenced by what we say to her, because she is very anxious to consult, and by what Al Haig has learned from the States in the area and what we have learned from the States in the area. Because, you see, so many people say, as we are all saying now, it is a source of [illegible words] must be solved. [illegible sentence] We then go into certain usages of vocabulary. It used to be a political entity, a homeland for the Palestinian people, self-determination, recognising the right of Israel to exist [illegible words] borders and boundaries? Recognising the legitimate [end p18] aspirations of the Palestinian people. Should it be a separate state, should it be a state which is part of another state, federated, or that land in fact which used to be a part of Jordan. All of these things have to be sorted out. They can only be done with very very much wider consultation, I believe, than we have had up to date.

Question

What about the PLO? Are the Americans going to recognise the PLO or is Britain ready to recognise the PLO?

Prime Minister

The word “recognition” to us means countries. We do not, I must tell you, recognise the PLO. We talk of “Palestinian people” , of course we do, and that, I think, is the right way.

Question

Do you talk to the PLO?

Prime Minister

No, we do not officially talk at Ministerial level … well, you have no Ministers in the PLO … we have not had Ministers talking to the PLO. We have met at official level. We have not in fact talked to the PLO and I think the reason [end p19] of which you will be aware, will be their contacts with terrorism.

Question

In the future even? Do you rule it out?

Prime Minister

We have no plans for any change, but it may be that Lord Carrington, in his capacity as President of the European Community, may have to meet people in the PLO, as former Presidents of the EC have met representatives of the PLO. As a country, we do not at Ministerial level. You asked me a straight question, I will always give you a straight answer!

Question (very faint)

I would like to go back to one point you mentioned that the EEC countries do not think separately from the US as far as the Middle East conflict is concerned. But the US Administration under ex-President Carter and [illegible words] have so far been thinking separately from the EEC. They [illegible words] Reagan administration took office they opted for the Jordan option. So far they have been thinking separately. [end p20]

Prime Minister

I would not, with respect, have thought so.

Douglas Hurd

There was much talk of it, but what has happened, surely, is that Secretary Haig has decided very wisely to visit the area before opting for any options, and that process is what is going on now, and I do not think, until that visit is complete and he has reported to the President and there has been further consultation no doubt with many people, it will not be possible to judge how the United States Administration proposes to carry forward what the last Administration started.

Prime Minister

I think, if you look at the timing, certainly President Carter 's initiative was first, the initiative [following line illegible] results. As I said, some territory which was taken during the 1967 war was given up, given back to Egypt and Israel withdrew and part of that territory given up contained the oil wells and the last withdrawal takes place fairly soon…next year…but there was some [illegible word]. Then it came after the American election. We, I think, in Europe, felt very strongly that the process of trying to [end p21] find a solution must continue, and so we took it up with our initiative, trying all the time to try to clarify some of these points and trying to get both sides to the conflict to accept the legitimate rights and aspirations of the other.

You might think that progress is slow. Yes, indeed, it is slow. By its very nature it is slow. Now, in the United States, their election is over and they themselves are thinking how best to go forward and it is quite clear they have not made up their [illegible words] want you to think is that there is any competition between the United States initiative and ours; there is not. Both are both working for the same objective, which is a solution to that problem and I think that the work we have done may help to give us a larger understanding of it, which we can of course use to influence them too.

Question

Are the prospects of British arms sales to the Gulf States better now in the light of Mr. Nott 's visit?

Prime Minister

Well, as you know, we have been selling arms to the States in the Gulf and, after all, it is obviously up to us to help them to do everything they can to make sure of [end p22] their own security, and naturally, we are very pleased when they order our defence weapons and, indeed, if training is requested with those weapons or any advice, we are very happy to give it, and we do indeed. It is one of our objectives obviously to do everything we can for our own trade, but the main purpose is to help the States in the Gulf to ensure their own security. There is no substitute in the world for being in a position to defend your own area and to ensure your own security. It seems to me that that is what the [illegible words] purpose, they are ordering armaments, weapons, aircraft, tanks, from the West and we have traditionally been suppliers of some of those things. We are particularly good on aircraft. We have also been very good on tanks. We have been particularly good on armour. We are absolutely outstanding on radar, on avionics in aircraft, on some aero engines, on carbon fibre. The research and development [illegible words] at which this country has excelled. The [illegible words] of jet was ours; the swing wing was ours; radar was ours; carbon fibre is ours; a whole host of things. The [illegible word] armour—ours—at which we are particularly good. Of course, we are very pleased when other people order our things; they are good; they are extremely good. The Harrier is perhaps the best plane in the world. The Tornado is very very advanced. The Rapier is quite superb; [words missing] [end p23] of orders for it, so yes, of course, we consult and negotiate closely. We believe it helps the Culf to secure her own future by ensuring her own defence and, of course, it does help us too.

Question

Prime Minister, would Britain be willing to participate in an international peace-keeping force between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai?

Prime Minister

Do you mean as part of a United Nations force? On the whole, we have done our duty always by United Nations forces. We are not in the Lebanon force, as you know; that, I think, Nigeria, Ireland and the Netherlands. I do not think that question has yet arisen. I really do not think that we can answer questions like that at this stage.

Question

[Illegible] [end p24]

Prime Minister

I believe the Gulf is making certain that it becomes more secure by virtue of the tremendous efforts that each and every one of the countries is making, making not only separately but jointly. After all, we were all very worried when there was trouble in Iran, at first, what effect would that have on the Gulf, and it came up upon us very quickly, and we were all very worried when there was trouble between Iraq and Iran, as to whether that might spread. That came upon us extremely quickly. Sources of trouble in the world. Perhaps with hindsight you can see them, but they tend, if one was trying to predict what would happen in the future, they come upon one extremely quickly and that is why really the best defence one can have is one's own always.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, how do you define the actual threat is the Gulf area? A lot of talk about threats and about Gulf security, but what is the real threat?

Prime Minister

I do not think one can necessarily specifically define it. I just look back and see the [illegible words] there was very great trouble in Iran, the worry we had when [end p25] the Soviet Union went through to Afghanistan, which brought her within a few hundred miles of the Straits of Hormuz and the problem of Afghanistan absolutely next to Iran, what would be the effect of that? The fact that one million refugees have left Afghanistan and are now in Pakistan, and then the problem when there was trouble breaking out into conflict between Iraq and Iran and we all had problems. Now, would that spread? What effect would it have on the whole of the Arabian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz on the whole of the economy of the area, the politics and the economics? They are both part of the same thing, but most of the economic troubles start with political troubles, usually, so of course, looking back, I can remember when the trouble came in Iran, remember the day the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan and refugees started to pour out into Pakistan and one looked at the map and thought, well, not only now has the Soviet Union got the northern border of Iran, it has got a big eastern border with Iran. How will the trouble in Iran go? We do not know. We have really had enough experience of uncertainty in those parts of the Gulf over the last two years or so for us to know what uncertainty feels like, and therefore, I think everyone is thinking how can we make the whole area the more stable, both within the Gulf itself which the Gulf countries are doing, and what can we do well beyond that to see that trouble does not flare up over the Gulf? That is why we are very firm. There must be no further invasion [end p26] into independent countries, occupation of independent countries by force, and that is why when we look in another direction we are all very worried today about what may happen.

Question

Talking about the stability of the Middle East, I think it is agreed upon that the war in the Lebanon is posing a danger to the area. Do you think, Prime Minister, that Britain, on its own or through the EEC, is prepared to undertake an initiative to bring peace to that country?

Prime Minister

We did issue, at the Maastricht Council of Europe, a statement about the Lebanon, but I do not think we ourselves are able to take the initiative to bring the grievous troubles there to an end. We do call upon all parties in the Lebanon to bring it to an end and to allow UNIFIL to do their proper task, because as you know, some of the members of the United Force there have been killed in cross-fire and we have in fact criticised that very severely, [illegible words] Lebanon. We have been very critical of some of [illegible words] which has given rise both to deaths among both the Irish and then the Nigerian forces. [end p27]

Douglas Hurd

We have been in close touch with different people concerned in the last two or three days and I think if some idea did emerge in which we or others could be helpful, we would be glad to do so, but so far, as the Prime Minister said, that is not the position.

Question

What is your biggest problem, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

I think the most immediately worrying one is whether Poland will continue to be allowed to solve her own problems herself in her own way. We are all very much desirous that she should be allowed to continue. That is the immediate one.

Question

Should we expect an escalation of the tension there?

Prime Minister

We all await the result of certain meetings today with both interest and anxiety and all of us in Europe say that Poland must be left to solve her own problems in her own way. We give economic help at her request, as far [end p28] as food is concerned and also as part of helping her with re-financing her debts. We are all anxious and it will be absolutely in keeping with the view we take about each and every country; that it is for each and every country to determine their own destiny.

Question

It is not the monetary policy? [Which is your biggest problem]?

Prime Minister

Monetary policy is bringing inflation down alongside the budgetary policy. A monetary policy is never enough on its own. It has to be backed up by the right budgetary policy and as you can see, it is in fact bringing inflation down and if it were not, we should have very little hope of competing with other countries in Europe.