Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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1982 Jul 7 We
Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC World Service (visiting Rome) [Falklands & Lebanon]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Radio Interview
Venue: Palazzo Chigi, Rome
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Journalist: Gordon Martin, BBC
Editorial comments: British correspondents interviewed the Prime Minister 1700-1755 local time.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2365
Themes: Agriculture, Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union (general), European Union Budget, Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), British relations with Italy

Gordon Martin, BBC

If I may begin in the Italian dimension there has been a lot of speculation here in the Italian press as to whether, and I quote, “you have forgiven the Italians for not giving full support over sanctions against Argentina”. Have you in fact forgiven them?

MT

We were disappointed that they were not able to renew their sanctions. They did of course have sanctions for the first four weeks. But throughout the whole period they have been very sure and certain on one thing, they have never supplied arms to the Argentines so long as those hostilities were on and for that I have been profoundly grateful.

Gordon Martin, BBC

So you have at the end of the day found here understanding for British repossession of the Falklands.

MT

Oh, very much so and there is great warmth and friendship between the people of Italy and the people of the United Kingdom.

Gordon Martin, BBC

Are we in fact still waiting for news from Argentina of the cessation of hostilities in their view?

MT

We are doing more than waiting. We are actively sending messages asking for confirmation that hostilities have permanently ceased. We find the new Foreign Secretary making speeches but we have had no communication from him. We have already returned some 10,000 Argentine prisoners of war to Argentina and it is interesting that Argentina holds only one of ours, Flight Lieutenant Glover, and he was wounded and should be returned under the Geneva convention but we have not had any news that he will be returned quickly. We at the moment have some nearly 600 prisoners of war left on the Falkland islands, Argentine prisoners of war. We naturally want to return them to their homes in the Argentine. We naturally want to lift our economic sanctions, to unfreeze the financial assets in London and to lift the total exclusion zones. But you know, we were taken by surprise by the invasion and we don't want to be taken by surprise by another attack, so therefore it seems reasonable to say “now look, there have not been any hostilities for a few weeks. I assume, are we right to assume, that they have ceased altogether?” we sent in a message which arrived to the Argentinians through the Swiss embassy who represents us in Buenos Aires and as yet we have had no reply. So we have sent in another one and we are still waiting. [end p1]

Gordon Martin, BBC

So at the moment the new Argentine request for talks would fall on fairly deaf ears in Downing street?

MT

Talks about what?

Gordon Martin, BBC

I gather the new Argentine Foreign Minister suggested that talks should now be resumed on the basis of 502.

MT

502 was not honoured by the Argentines. 502: the essential element was the Argentines withdraw. They did not.

Gordon Martin, BBC

There is some concern here in Italy on this …   . as we all know there are close historic links with Argentina and many of the people in Argentina are of Italian origin. There is concern that relations have been irreparably damaged with Buenos Aires. Would you, Prime Minister, attempt any sort of rapprochement with Argentina in the longer term if not in the shorter one?

MT

Well, you know, when I came to power in Great Britain, diplomatic relations with the Argentine had been severed for some time and it was my government that restored them, indicating that we wished to be friendly and to cooperate with the Argentine, it was of course a different government then. So we did make every effort. I am afraid that it didn't help us very much and we did not get very much return for it. But if those friendly relationships do not exist, it is not my fault. We have done everything possible both in the first place to restore diplomatic relations and throughout this whole terrible matter of repossessing, of their invading, then of our having to repossess the Falkland islands by force, we have done everthing strictly correctly under the Geneva convention and looked after the Argentine prisoners and returned them in our ships and we still have some of them being kept in our ships because that is the best accommodation that we have.

Gordon Martin, BBC

And I imagine you would not perhaps go along with Mrs Kirkpatrick 's view that relations with Latin America have been damaged because in your view it is quite wrong to talk about Latin America as such. [end p2]

MT

Yes, I think it is, and it is like talking about Europe as if it just were a single entity. Europe is not. It consists of many different countries, each with their own historical background and national pride, as South America consists of many many different countries each with a different history, each with its own characteristic forms of government, each with its own national pride. And throughout all of the difficulties and hostilities and conflict with the Argentine we have kept diplomatic relations with the other countries in South America.

Gordon Martin, BBC

There were signs certainly at some stages of the conflict on the Falklands that the United States had considerable misgivings about the British policy. Do you think, Prime Minister, that those misgivings in Washington have now largely disappeared?

MT

I never had any doubt that in the end the United States could not be neutral as between a military dictatorship and a democracy. The United States is the very quintessence of democracy and therefore she had obviously come down on the side of democracy and she did.

Gordon Martin, BBC

Unfortunately, obviously some differences still remain between Britain and the United States, notably over the question of the construction of the Siberian gas pipeline. Is it Britain's intention still to go ahead to honour those contracts come what may?

MT

We are in discussion with our own companies at the moment to see what course of action would be best for them because a number of our companies depend on licences for particular pieces of technology from companies in the United States and they have to consider the long term as well as the immediate, so we are discussing these things with the United States. My point about this matter is not the Siberian gas pipeline as such but that we have entered into contracts with the Soviet Union to supply certain materials, mainly turbines, on a certain date. We entered into those contracts in ordinary, commercial good faith, just as the United States enters into contracts to supply wheat to the Soviet Union. Contracts made in good faith—those contracts should be honoured and not suddenly be severed. Otherwise it means that a country does not keep its word and that, naturally I think, is extremely bad, would be bad for us and also I think is very bad for businesses in the United States. [end p3]

Gordon Martin, BBC

You have never thought of suggesting, Prime Minister, that the United States should in fact give up the sale of grain to the Soviet Union?

MT

There are times when I have said to the United States—if you are asking us to break existing contracts, are you not going to supply grain to the Soviet Union? But I understand that what they are after at the moment is the Siberian pipeline.

Gordon Martin, BBC

But at the end of the day you would still describe relations between eurohe as a whole and the United States as good?

MT

Yes, I would because all of us in Europe, in the Community and in NATO, realise that the United States is a final guarantor of freedom and justice in our countries as well as in the United States. And we know that we must stand together. We share the same democratic principles, the same principles as a rule of law, and therefore we have to put these minor disagreements, however much they hurt us and however strongly we feel about them, in context of what matters in longer term interests and so it won't break up friendship. We are still staunch allies. We deeply regret there are disagreements. We think they arose from misunderstandings and if only we had been able to discuss them better beforehand, we should not have been put in this position. We are pursuing the matter as vigorously as we can behind the scenes.

Gordon Martin, BBC

Obviously, Prime Minister, this meeting in Rome today as so much else in the world today is overshadowed by the crises in Lebanon. Britain has strongly and publicly condemned the Israeli action. Would you feel that the United States should or still should exercise greater restraint on Israel before it is too late?

MT

Well, of course, in the original Security Council motion the United States also called for the withdrawal of Israel from the Lebanon just as forcibly as we did, and I think she is trying to bring every influence to bear that she possibly can and I think that her latest move to send ships to try to evacuate the Palestinians is an indication of that. She does not want any more fighting in West Beirut any more than anyone else in the world does, either for humanitarian reasons, which come first, or [end p4] for political reasons, or for the longer term reasons that the worse these hostilities are, the greater the bitterness. And I think therefore she has taken this initiative very much to try to stop any further fighting and to try to do all she can in practical terms to stop it and to say what can we do to help get the Palestinians out. And I think she is to be applauded for doing that.

MT

President Reagan at the same time does appear to be suggesting some form of international involvement in the Middle East in perhaps this scheme to have a rescue operation to get the Palestinians out of Beirut. Would you go along with that, Prime Minister?

MT

I don't think we ourselves could do very much at the moment to help that for obvious reasons. We have a good deal on our hands in the Falklands and a lot of ships involved down there and a certain amount of evacuation to do from there both of some of our own forces and, as you know, of the Argentine prisoners of war. And also, you know, we helped out both our American friends and Israel and Egypt by providing a small contingent for the Sinai force, the multinational Sinai force, so I think we ourselves are pretty fully occupied at the moment and then there is Hong Kong and then we have a garrison in Belize. And I think the United States understands that, but if a multinational force helps to get the evacuation accepted the better then fof course we would support it.

Gordon Martin, BBC

It's now some considerable time, Prime Minister, since the Venice declaration. Do you see any chance for Europe to re-enter the Middle East scene with a continuation of that sort of initiative?

MT

I think we all have to reassess the new situation. Lebanon, what happened in Lebanon, is very very fundamental. And also of course, there are problems which complicate the whole thing, important on their own and a complicating factor with Iran, Iraq, the situation between Iraq/Syria, Syria and Iran, and Iran and the Lebanon. The whole matter has taken on new shape. It is not easy to assess. Frankly it is not easy to see a way through. The question is, where are the Palestinians now going to go? One says they have a right to self-determination. How could one possibly give practical effect to that? It is more [words missing] now since the Lebanon than it was before. [end p5]

Gordon Martin, BBC

If I may move on now, Prime Minister, finally to Europe. Clearly today in Rome you will have reviewed the spectrum of East/West relations, arms control and so on. How do you see the present state of play between Europe, Western Europe and the Soviet Union?

MT

We are all determined to defend our way of life. We all know that that means making proper provision both in conventional arms and in nuclear arms as between NATO and the Warsaw pact. And we have to deter at all levels, so, that we have to defend properly our own way of life and make proper provision for that is not in doubt. Nevertheless, both for us and the Soviet Union it is becoming increasingly expensive as the weapons of war get more and more sophisticated and the purpose of the disarmament talks is to try to have that security for both of us but at a lower level of expenditure. To do that, of course, we must not only have agreements but we must make certain that each and every one can be inspected, can be enforced and is wholly verifiable. That means we have to have confidence and have to have the access for inspection which leads to that confidence and justifies it.

Gordon Martin, BBC

So you would go along with the Americans demand for on site inspection within the Soviet Union?

MT

We welcome the American initiative but if it is to be effective one must have full and proper inspection and under the larger term verification. [end p6]

Gordon Martin, BBC

Despite the overshadowing effect of the Lebanon and of your preoccupation obviously with the rehabilitation in the Falkland islands, have you had much time today to talk about European Community matters, the budget and other things of that sort?

MT

Yes, we have talked about European Community matters because there is the whole question of the luxembourg compromise. What happened was amazing to us because we went in believing that it waould always be honoured and it wasn't and we believe that it is better to have one, to keep it in being, and we can do that by discussions under the new Genscher/Colombo proposals. So we have talked about that. We've talked briefly about the need to restructure the budget. It really isn't good enough for Germany to be so much the largest contributor and for other countries who are equally rich per head, some of them even richer per head than Germany, not to make any contribution at all. That is fundamentally wrong. And then of course there are still a number of problems with the common agricultural policy. We still produce rather a lot of surpluses and sell them off to other countries at prices cheaper than our own people can buy them. And finally we are both concerned about enlargement. We both feel that in the interests of dimocracy we must try to secure the enlargement for Spain and Portugal because however difficult the economic problems, and the difficulties of Mediterranean products, what will affect our whole quality of life is that peace and democracy with freedom and justice continue in Europe and that is the approach which both Italy and the United Kingdom takes.