Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Kuwait

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Salaam Palace, Kuwait
Source: Thatcher Archive (THCR 5/1/5/113): transcript
Editorial comments: The Press Conference was televised.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3762
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Monetary policy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Terrorism

Mrs. Thatcher opening statement.

This is the first visit of a British Prime Minister in Office to Kuwait, and I am very happy to repair the previous omission. It so happens that it is not my own first visit. I came here in 1973 as Secretary of State for Education and Science. I had a most interesting tour the n and was very impressed with everything I saw and am even more impressed now with the immense progress which seems to have been made since that time. It is very interesting that the Minister of Education who was my host I have now seen as the Minister of Industry and Commerce today. Again, it was like a meeting of old friends who shared experienc es in a previous Ministry. I had a very happy meeting this morning with the Amir, taking a rather longer time discussing things with him than had been planned. We spoke mainly about foreign affairs matters-which will not surprise you. We referred to the Gulf Cooperation Council, to the great Arab/Israel conflict problem which so dominates thought in this area and also a little bit about his own tour in the Balkans. I was then fortunate to have a long meeting with the Prime Minister accompanied by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and also the Minister for Health. We referred there to the same foreign affair matters, about which I am sure you will question me and then, of course, to th e Iran/Iraq war. We then turned to a number of bilateral matters where we noted that Britain in fact was the third highest exporter to Kuwait. Japan is the highest and then I think the United States but after that our goods are the greatest in number and value exported to Kuwait. Naturally, I am anxious that we should increase our trade to Kuwait and I think we are poised to do so partly because the exchange rate is in our favour and also the fact that we are highly competitive on price, good on delivery times, excellent on value. It is wonderful that one finds here, as in Bahrain, the ready response when I said that I thought we should do even [end p1] more trade with Kuwait. They say they ar e ready to have closer ties with Britain, and we think there are a lot of opportunities to be picked up now for firms that are competitive. I have been very impressed with the warm reception if I may say on both sides, the ease and frankness of discussion and we hope to continue to renew friendship with Kuwait, may it grow and result in increasing trade links in every respect.

Question Al Watan (Kuwait)

Visit of Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia to Britain. Did you reach any agreement with Saudi Arabia concerning the sale of Nimrod aircraft?


Crown Prince Fahd came to Britain a few days ago, we were happy to receive him and talk about things which affect Saudi Arabia and Britain. No, indeed, we still hope and believe the AWACs sale will go ahead. We are not competing with that. Saudi Arabia wishes to purchase the AWACs for her c ountry. We hope and we say publicly we hope that this sale will go through. If it doesn't then of course we hope that Nimrods will be considered in lieu of the AWACs.

Question: Al Ral Al Asm (Kuwait)

The British Government still maintains a vague and hesitant stand with regards to the search for a Middle East settlement especially with regards to the PLO. Why wouldn't Britain play a greater part within the European Community towards a possible solution of the Middle East problem?


This was set out a great deal in the Venice Declaration which I have with me and if I may respectfully say so, it is worth reading [end p2] because it does cover most aspects of the Middle East question. Secondly, with regard to the British Government's attitude towards the PLO we quite rightly do not recognise the PLO. We do not recognise organisations, only countries. But I do not wish to rest on that in my reply. The reason we do not go further and have Ministerial meetings with the PLO is first because of their association with terrorism and secondly because of the statements by parts of the PLO that their real objective is to drive Israel into the sea and wipe it off the face of the globe and you will be familiar with some of the statements which have been made to that effect. The object of the Venice Declaration is so that each side of the dispute recognises the rights of the other. You have heard me say quite frequently, it is impossible to ask something for yourself—na mely self-determination and to live within secure boundaries—unless you are prepared also to grant that same right to others. To our Israeli people we say, if you want to live within secure borders as a country yourself you have a right to do so, but you must recognise the rights of the Palestinian people. To the Palestinian people we say if yo u want the right of self-determination, and we recognise that the Palestinian problem is no longer a refugee problem but a problem of national identity, you too must recognise the rights of the Israelis to live in peace behind secure borders. Now our efforts have been directed toward trying to get those two things recognised simultaneously. So far we have not succeeded but we have not given up. If each would recognise the rights of the other there would be a basis to go ahead.

Question ? (Kuwait)

Britain, had previously expressed support for the rapid deployment force and expressed her willingness to contribute troops to that force and she has also said that [end p3] the defence of the Gulf is the affair of its States. Does that mean that the British Government is going back on its first statem ent!


There is no inconsistency between the two. Obviously the defence of any country is primarily the responsibility of that country. We all of us know that none of us can do that alone. We normally have to form regional associations of allies the better to be able to defend one's position. In that connection we are very happy firstly at the formation of the Gulf Corporation Council recently and secondly to consider defence security as part of its duties. It is first the duty of the countries of the area to defend themselves. If they seek help from outside, as they may well seek help from outside if anything unforseen arises, one could not possibly be in a position to give that help unless one had a rapid deployment force to move quickly. So the point is to have a rapid deployment force and if the United States thinks of forming one we would like to contribute so that if called it could be moved quickly. It is not the intention to move to provide help for an area without a request from that area. The two are not inconsistent in any way.

Question Kuwait TV Station

It was reported that your Government has invited the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, to visit Great Britain providing he promises to recognise Israel. Would you care to comment on that?


I think the position is this: We are President of the European Community at the moment. Lord Carrington in his capacity as President of the European Community has been trying to persuade those who have influence on the PLO to get them conditionally to say they wou ld recognise Israel's right to exist as a nation behind secure borders which can be defended, provided that Israel recognised the rights of the [end p4] Palestinian people. If that conditional recognition were to come it would make a very big difference to the willingness of Lord Carrington to see Yasser A rafat in any rate in his capacity of President of Europe. Previous Presidents of Europe have seen Mr Arafat it may be that Lord Carrington would have to continue that. It would make it a great deal easier and a step in a direction towards solving the problem if one can get that co nditional recognition. “We will recognise your right to exist if you will recognise ours” .

Question Al Qabas, Kuwait newspaper

After the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi atom plant, do you still view the Soviet threat as the main threat to the area?


We in fact watched the tremendous build up of armaments in the Soviet Union. They allocate something like 13%; of their GDP to it year after year. We allocate very far less, something like 5%;. We don't know quite why there is that collosal build up particularly while their people could do with a higher standard of living. We can only draw our own conclusions about this tremendous build up and recognise that even if the military arsenal itself were not used it does constitute a threat to other people who could in fact be persuaded to do what the Soviet Union wanted by virtue of the tremendous superiority of arms and of cou rse where some of their nuclear weapons are concerned. We don't know what their motives are, we can only observe the tremendous build up and say that we in the West must defend ourselves in order to deter any threat. Each and every nation must be prepared to defend itself to deter any threat. It is not for me to say which constitutes the greater t hreat to any area. [end p5]

Question Al Siyassa, Kuwait newspaper.

Prime Minister, there is a general feeling around the Gulf Cooperation countries that the benefits of investments in Europe in general and Britain in particular are no longer worthwhile. Would you let us know of a new formula or guarantee on the part of Britain which would be enc ouraging enough for these countries to take on further investment relations with Britain?


In so far as it is a matter of investing in Government bonds the rate of interest and exchange rate is there for all to see. Of course under the present circumstances no one can guarantee an exchange rate because the volume of money moving around the world is so great that that has a far greater impact upo n the exchange rate in any one day than a single government could possible achieve by intervention. But the terms and conditions of Government bonds are there for all to see and they are of course in Great Britain absolutely safe. With regard to private investment that is a matter not for Government but for people to decide according to what they think a particular company has to offer and according to its future. With regard to property, on the whole that has not been a bad investment. It is a matter for the individual to judge.

Question Kuwait Newsagency.

How would the Prime Minister and the British Government view the tour of His Highness the Amir in the Balkan countries earlier this month and how does the British Government view Kuwait's attempt to take a balanced stand between East and West and Kuwait's invitation to other countries to fo llow her example?


It is a matter for the Amir of Kuwait to decide himself which [end p6] countries he visits. Would you be surprised if I were to say that I have visited Romania and Yugoslavia and before I was Prime Minister, Bulgaria, and before I was leader of the Opposition I even visited Moscow and Leningrad. I would not att ach too much significance to a particular visit. It is entirely a matter for the Amir and for Kuwait where he goes. I hope that a number of you will continue to visit the United Kingdom. We welcome you continuously. With regard to diplomatic representations for those countries on the Gulf, it is for each and every country in the Gulf to decide its elf. It is not for me to say for them, they are wholly independent to decide for themselves. With regard to any interpretation which is put on anything the Amir is alleged to have said, you must ask the Kuwait Government and not me.

Question Kuwait Times (English language)

What are your views on the recent strategic cooperation reached between the Reagan Administration and the Israeli Government? Don't you think that this cooperation will be a further threat to peace in the Middle East?


No I don't really think that it is very different to that relationship which exists now and I think that perhaps too much interpretation is drawn from comparatively small words. As you know the United States does supply fairly considerable arms to Israel and she does indeed give certain gu arantees about her oil supplies, so I don't think the recent declaration makes the situation different. I think it underlines what we have been saying for some time that the country which can bring most influence to bear on the solution of the Israel/Arab problem is the United States.

Question Kuwait Newsagency

You have said many times that any European initiative should not be [end p7] compare with the Camp David accords. But in the light of the new strategic cooperation reached between Ronald Reagan and Menachem Begin do you think that the United States will ever assert any pressure on Israel?


Now can I take that one at a time? What we have said in Europe was that our Venice Declaration was meant to be complementary to the United States efforts at Camp David not in competition with it, but meant as a help in itself to the whole Arab/Israeli peace process. And that of course is why we made the Declaration. Insofar as you call it Camp David, the process as yet to be completed by the transfer of the Sinai land from Israel to Egypt. That fact is a practical transfer of land. Back from Israel to an Arab country since the hostilities which were the subject of a United Nations resolution. That transfer will be completed in April/May next year. I think that we al l refer now not so much to Camp David as to the peace-making process. I am certain that the United States will wish to continue and which it is considering at present how best to continue; but whether a United States or whether a European initiative, we are all aware of the urgency of this problem and how much we need to make further progress on this particularly in the coming two years. We still continue we trying to put our Venice Declaration into effect. As I said the first step is to get recognition by each side of the rights of the other as a condition for settlement. It is not a competition—we are all trying to help in the same process, each doing the best thing we can to hel p it forward.

Question Amit Roy, Daily Telegraph

Is defence purchase likely to figure in your talks and if so what is the sort of equipment that Britain is likely to offer Kuwait? [end p8]


Well defence purchase does of course usually figure in one's talks because we do supply quite a considerable amount of defence equipment to countries in the Gulf. It makes sense for them to have a certain similarity, though not wholly identity, of defence equipment if the Gulf Security Coun cil is to get involved in defence matters. We have previously in the Gulf supplied the Hawk aircraft, it is quite the best trainer in the world, not only a training aircraft but of course it has a ground attack capability and a fighter capability. We have also supplied equipment like the Rapier, and we feel that perhaps we could be a particular he lp with things like a full military communication system which is absolutely vital for cooperation between one nation and another, and as you know we are very good at radar and all defence electronics. We discovered radar. We can only place our expertise before these people and point out that we are now highly competitive in price, very good on de livery dates, supremely good on equipment, indeed we are quite the best people to buy from.

Supplementary Amit Roy

Did Chieftains figure in your talks?


We have not discussed that, but I must indeed say that we have sold tanks to countries in the Middle East and are willing to do so again. I have not seen the Minister of Defence so I am replying in very general terms but certainly tanks would be something we could supply.

Question A1 Anba' (Kuwait)

I have found words of your Excellency contradictory sometimes. Regarding the PLO and Mr Arafat in particular, you don't recognise the PLO because it is related to terrorists. I wonder whether you [end p9] consider the attacks and Israeli raids on the south of Lebanon , on the Iraqi nuclear plant, on Beirut, on the refugees camps, whether it is acts of terrorism or whether it is very nice journeys in the air? Second, I would like to know the definition of terrorism in the point of view of your Excellency because Mr Begin was sentenced and was wanted according to the British laws for killing two British officers in Palestine. He is a terrorist and now he is a Prime Minister. We hope Mr Arafat will also be Prime Minister one day. The third point, you are not the first prime minister or any responsible European who says that the Palestinians would like to throw the Israelis into the sea. I do challe nge any European or American or Israeli source to tell us from where he dictates this sentence.


With regard to your latter point, yes, it was at one of the conferences of either a part of the PLO organisation or the whole. I cannot remember whether it was one in Damascus or the one in South America or both, but it is one that is frequently quoted to me in the House of C ommons and taken from a communiqué and by a part of the PLO organisation, and I will see that it is sent to our Kuwaiti friends. With regard to terrorism and Mr Begin you have made your point. It is one that is not lost on many of us. As you say he is Prime Minister of Israel, and I must equally tell you that ther e have been Prime Ministers of nations in the British Commonwealth who in fact maybe have previously been put in prison by the British for the part they played in terrorist activities. When they become Prime Minister one has to deal with them as Prime Minister of a country. They have after all been elected as Prime Minister of a country and that i s a democratic right of a country. With regard to your first point, I entirely agree with you about the bombing of Israel of the nuclear research centre in Iraq. Indeed I was one of the first [end p10] to get up in the House of Commons and say this is totally wrong, an unprovoked attack and must be totally condemned. We condemned it not one with the le ss in the way in which you condemned it. It was a violation of someone else's territory. It should never have happened we condemned it totally and utterly. With regard to the attacks on Beirut in the Lebanon, similarly, we condemned those and I was very very glad that Mr Habib managed to secure a cease-fire there becau se I think the situation was extremely dangerous. I am glad both for the efforts of Mr Habib of the United States backed up, or indeed foremost, in the forefront, of course, also in their earnestness and activities to get a settlement was Saudi Arabia, and both of the efforts were successful in preventing what could ha ve been a very ugly situation.


I wonder if your country discussed the Iraq/Iran war especially … ?


Yes we did indeed discuss the Iraq/Iran war. I wish we could pull out of a hat some solution, we cannot. As you know it is not very easy to know who is precisely in command in Iran or who to deal with. So I think we are all very concerned about it. There have been various attempts to visit the two sides to see if they could reach an arrangement for a cease-fire. So far, I am afraid, no solution has been forthcoming and the situation is made the more difficult I think by the internal situation in Iran.


Can I ask about the Saudi proposal for peace in the Middle East?


We were delighted that Crown Prince Fahd took the initiative [end p11] with his eight principles, and we hope that it would be pursued, and you would not expect me to say I agree with everyone in every particular detail, but in general, we thought the general thrust and movement of them was right and we hope that they too will e arnestly be pursued. We told him how pleased we were that he had made that initiative.


Is it right the idea that Britain is thinking of coming back into the Gulf? But a series of initiatives, statements, visits and plans by different British officials towards the area gives the impression as if Britain is having further thoughts or new plans towards the type of …   . [words missing ] they used and still have with the Gulf area.


I think we probably take the view that we have not been politically active and trade wise active enough in the Gulf. We know every time we come that we still have a great deal of friendship here. We feel that for the Gulf, we feel it when we are here and we do wish to take a more active role if that is wished by the countri es of the Gulf and certainly wish to trade more closely and will give them our support. We do give our support to things like the Gulf Cooperation Council, we are will to sell arms and do indeed to the area. We are willing and anxious to have more Ministerial visits as a way of demonstrating our interests. I am not really sure that I understood yo ur question.

Question (Repeat)

There is an impression around, taken from the different initiative statements, visits, which are taking place now in a very small period of time towards the Gulf area. These total initiatives give the impression as if the Tories are sorry for what the Labour done [sic]. As if the Tor ies [end p12] are having in mind a new formula which is not clear enough.


You can never, never go back. You always have to start from the present. We have in the Gulf countries a tremendous feeling of friendship for those countries and we know that that is reflected here. We therefore wish to be here more to demonstrate our support for the Gulf Cooperation Council to have closer trading links, an d in general to be even closer friends. But it is not a question of saying whether we thought what happened with the withdrawal ten years ago was right or wrong, it happened. There is no point in discussing it. We start from where we are now.


Prime Minister, do you think the time is right now to make a Thatcher declaration, a political declaration, namely British aid for the efforts of the Palestinians to have their own lands in Palestine or any part of it?


I am bound by the Venice Declaration and I, representing my Government, took a part in drawing it up and I think if you re-read the Venice Declaration you will find that it was a very comprehensive document and I think if we were able to achieve the things set out there we would go a long way to achieving a solution to the Arab Israeli problem and I know just how important that is not only to this area but to the stability of the world as a whole.