Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference following meeting with President Reagan

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: The Executive Office Building, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: 1805-1825.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3602
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Defence (Falklands), Energy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)

Q.(Anderson UPI)

What would Britain like the United States to do in the aftermath of the fighting in the Falklands?


At the moment our main task in the Falklands is rehabilitation and reconstruction. That will take quite a time. It is a traumatic experience for the people on the island to have been invaded and occupied, there are a lot of mines to clear, it is going to be very very difficult to get back life to normal and we have the winter months ahead. So the initial problem that we face is the one of ordinary rehabilitation and reconstruction. And I think that only we can do that and of course initially we will have to provide the defence. So I think any further role for the United States we would consider later but in the meantime we are very grateful for the material help which the United States has let us have and I think if we ask for any more in reconstruction I have no doubt that we will get the same welcoming reply that we have had hitherto. So it would be help in solving practical problems at the moment.

Q. (Cannon: Washington Post)

Would it be helpful in your view if the United States continued its sanctions in respect of Argentina?


The United States in fact put military sanctions on Argentina. she has, as you know, had those sanctions on since 1978 but she did tighten them up when the Argentine invasion of the Falklands began. I think it is of help if the United States continues military sanctions to Argentina and, as you know, Europe also is continuing those military sanctions.

Q. (Chicago Tribune)

You said before that you would like to see the United States take part in any peacekeeping force in the Falklands? Did you discuss that today with President Reagan? What can you tell us about his reaction? [end p1]


No I did not discuss it today because as I indicated the immediate problems are of a very very practical nature in the Falklands. I think it will take quite some time to get the islands back and their people and their businesses back to normal. After all they have had what some eleven/twelve thousand Argentinians there. They now have a large number of our forces. Mines have been laid indiscriminately. They are having to be cleared. We hope soon to be returning some teachers and other people to the islands who were asked to leave by the Argentines. You and I do not know what it is like to have been occupied and therefore we can't quite envisage all of the problems. There are a lot of practical problems and we will really have to solve those first before going into the long term future of the islands. So we didn't get down to the kind of detail and discussion which you indicated.

Q. (Cable News Network)

Have the United States/British relations been helped or hurt by what has happened in the Falklands?


United States/British relations are as good as they have ever been. Have they been helped or hurt? I think they have more likely to have been helped than hurt because the United States has been very very good in some of the practical support she has given us, so I would think they have been helped.

Q. (Wall Street Journal)

Did the President talk to you about the American desire to surrender sovereignty over the islands at some point and offer to play a role in negotiating?


No, ma'am, no. I would'nt expect Ronald Reaganhim to …   . there is no question of sovereignty.

Q. (Hearst Newspapers)

With the bitterness that must exist on both sides, what kind of a post-war relationship would you like to have with Argentina?


Of course we would like to have a friendly relationship. Don't know whether you know that it was my government which restored diplomatic relations with the Argentines. There had previously been an incident when the Argentine had fired across the bows of one of our vessels, the Shackleton, and the previous government terminated diplomatic relations after that. When we came back into power we restored them and did everything we possibly could to have friendly relations with the Argentine. I am afraid that it did not have very many advantageous practical results. There was no lack of will on our side, it was very much the reception that we received. And so friendship, as you know, takes two. Naturally when the Argentines invaded British territory inhabited by British people, some of whom have been there for seven generations and there were only thirty Argentines on those islands, all the rest were British, naturally those relations have taken [end p2] a very very big knock indeed, particularly when we had to [illegible word] both men and equipment in securing the return of those islands. But I cannot emphasise too strongly that it was the Argentines who broke the peace and they did it at a time when we had been doing our level best to have constructive friendly relations with them.

Q. (Hearst)

You say that there is no role, there is no question of sovereignty, are you indeed saying there is no role for Argentina in the future disposition of the Falklands?


I am saying just that. Those islands are British sovereign territory. They were discovered by Britain, British people have been in continuous possession for 150 years, they are all of British stock some of them for seven generations have been there, which is longer than many of the people at present in the Argentine have been there. There are only thirty Argentines. The islands have been restored to British sovereignty and of course the people have been restored to the way of life they wish to see. And what happens when we discuss sovereignty under those circumstances is that the only people that you discuss it with are the people who belong to the territory. After all I have been talking at the United Nations earlier today in New York, there are forty-five votes in the United Nations, from forty-five countries who have been brought to independence by Britain, that is the sovereignty has been transferred from Britain to the people of those territories. Now that is the only kind of transfer which you consider.


Do you think that the oil deposits off the Falklands had anything to do with the invasion?


We have not been able to find out, because the only way of finding out if there are any there is by drilling holes. The rocks are of a kind which could be oil-bearing and certainly we expect that there is probably a good deal of gas on the continental shelf. But unless we can get things to be a bit more stable, then it is not likely that one would get people to invest the considerable sums which are required to drill exploratory holes. That is one of the things that we were always hoping to get sorted out in our previous discussions with the Argentines which were on at the time they invaded. At the present time I would have thought with the price of oil as it is, people would not be likely to look there first for exploration. but as you know the oil market goes up and down and one naturally wishes to know whether there are commercial deposits which could be exploited.

Q. (New York Daily News)

Did the President mention extending military sanctions and at what point he would make that decision?


But I rather understood that the United States had decided to continue military sanctions but I stress again they have had a rule [end p3] or a practice that armaments were not exported to the Argentine and they have had that rule since 1978. They did I believe strengthen its effectiveness after the Argentines had invaded the Falklands.

Q. (N.B.C news)

From what you have said. … I gather that you would go on record as saying that the Falklands will be British ten years, twenty years from now?


The Falklands are British now. The only question of sovereignty arises from discussions with the people of those islands. In the first stages, I imagine, they will come up to self government. We have been working that way for some time now. They have their own elected legislative council which passes the laws and each year we report under the relevant United Nations charter article, about what we are doing to go further towards self government. Whether they would wish to go independent, in which case they would still need security, because she wouldn't be big enough to provide it, would be a matter for discussion with them. It would depend upon how much development we manage to get there and whether other people wish also to go there and put their future in the Falklands. But I cannot emphasise too strongly that there are forty-five territories in the United Nations where the sovereignty obviously, because they are independent, belongs to the people of those territories, where it used to belong to Britain. That is the classic way we have had of dealing with these matters with the one obvious exception of where I am sitting now.

Q. (Executive Intelligence Review)

Is it true that if nations of Latin America seize British financial interests there, that would destroy what little there is left of the British economy and financial system?


I am sorry. I haven't quite got what you are getting at in the question. I think it is you are saying that there are quite a number of British investments in the Argentine or Latin America.


Right …   .


You make investments the world over and we are trying [illegible word] both through the United Nations and other organisations to get certain international rules about overseas investment. It was one of the crying needs for development in some parts of Latin America but certainly in under-developed countries is to try to secure greater capital from the Western countries to those under-developed territories. Therefore in order to secure that one needs codes of conduct and safe regulations for those investments so that they will not be seized. Now if people wish to have overseas investment they are not suddenly going to seize that investment because it would be serving notice on anyone who would otherwise put investment there that that investment would not be safe and that really is the answer of why they are not likely to do it. [end p4]


In order to maintain your British sovereignty on the Falklands. Do you plan a large contingent of troops on land and sea in that area? Will that affect NATO?


We shall have to put sufficient there in order to enable us to defend those islands. It will obviously be a great deal less than was necessary in order to retake them. Very considerably less, that is just inevitable in the situation. Some of the ships that went to the Falklands used to be on 48 hour alert for NATO. They are still on 30 day alert for NATO and would therefore still be available to NATO. Apart from that very little equipment has actually been withdrawn from NATO and of course most of our troops are still on the central NATO front. So very little has actually been withdrawn from NATO, apart from the ships.


Do you anticipate any further hostilities on the South Atlantic between great Britain and Argentina?


Well we obviously very much hope not. We have been trying to secure an assurance from the government in the Argentine that hostilities are at an end. It hasn't been easy to know who to send messages to but we hope now that they have sorted one or two things out that we might get a reply to a note which we had already sent through the Swiss who represent us. We wish to have a permanent end to hostilities, we can then raise all the economic sanctions, the financial sanctions, the total exclusion zones and life can return to normal.

Q. (New York Times)

In your talks with President Reagan, did you discuss any political steps which Britain might take with American encouragement which might be positively received by the Argentines?


No we did not discuss any particular steps and I make it perfectly clear that it was we who made the overtures of friendship to the Argentines at the beginning of my government. It was they who invaded our territory. They were the aggressor and we were the victim. We naturally wish to establish or re-establish friendly relations with the Argentine, but I do stress that is what we were doing before.

Q. (ap: George Gedda)

Is your government sensitive to problems that the Falklands have posed for U.S. relations with Latin America. did this subject come up in your discussions today?


I have read and seen a great deal of discussion about it and I am always amazed that in some curious way Latin America is treated as a unified whole. It isn't, there are very very different countries, in the southern American continent with their own particular interests and their own particular characteristics, and diplomatic relations have been kept between Britain and all the other countries of Latin America as they were before. It is only that our relationships now are obviously difficult with Argentina. But that [end p5] is not our fault and I do not see any difficulty of retaining friendships with the other countries in south America. We still have it and I don't know whether you have been watching recently some of the leaders for example in some of the Brazilian press. They have been very objective and they haven't been anti-British in any way.


I was wondering whether you had considered the possibility of Commonwealth troops for a peacekeeping force in the Falklands?


Well we haven't got around to considering the constitutional nature of a multinational force in the Falklands yet. As I indicated earlier there are many many practical problems that have to be sorted out in the Falkland islands before we consider that. And if you have a multinational force of course, the first thing you have to consider is that it must have a very clear command structure particularly in the case of islands which have previously been invaded. So far we have got no further on that. Both Australia and New Zealand have been extremely helpful. New Zealand was prepared to have one of her frigates go on one of our normal stations, thus releasing one of ours, and in Australia they are already setting up a South Atlantic fund to help with the problems that we have found there.

Q. (Detroit News)

Can you give us some idea of your discussions with the President on the situation in the Middle East?


Ronald ReaganHe brought me up to date, because I have been travelling for more than 24 hours. He brought me up to date on the situation and I can't say more than that.

Q. (Newsweek)

… (inaudible) … do you feel that resolution 502 has already been fulfilled?


Resolution 502 which is the one you are referring to had three parts. First cessation of hostilities, two Argentine withdrawal, three a negotiated settlement. Those were the three parts. Now the main part, before you had cessation of hostilities was to secure an Argentine withdrawal and without conflict. We went to great lengths to try to secure that Argentine withdrawal. It was never secured, they would not, they did not withdraw. Now that resolution you see had three parts, cessation of hostilities, Argentine withdrawal, negotiations. The withdrawal was never secured. We had to go in and put the Argentines off (the islands) and literally we have now returned 10,000 of them home. Now if you have a three legged stool it simply cannot stand on two legs.

Q. (Financial Times)

Can you tell us if President Reagan made any suggestions at all about the way you should improve relations with Argentina and the South Atlantic? [end p6]


No we were not discussing that particular matter. We are not in difficulty with the other countries in south America. We still have our normal diplomatic contacts there and they operate regularly. As I have indicated so many times this session, it was I who restored diplomatic relations with the Argentine. On April the first, the day before the invasion, Mr Costa Mendez called on our ambassador in Buenos Aires who had been trying to have a negotiated settlement on the question of South Georgia and told him the diplomatic channels are now closed. So it is we who tried to be friendly, they who closed the channels down and preferred invasion. Obviously there will come a time when we try to restore those diplomatic relations. I do not think the time will be immediately or that they would want it immediately.

Q. (F.T.)

So do you say that President Reagan made no specific suggestions?


That is correct but we were not discussing that particular matter.

Q. (Spanish newsagency)

Would you think that the Falkland crisis would complicate the long-term negotiations with Spain and the United Kingdom about Gibraltar and does your government favour or oppose the Spanish entry into the EC?


We have consistently favoured the Spanish joining the European community and I have consistently made that clear. I think it would be in the interest of Spain, in the interest of Europe, and in the interest of democracy. We are very disappointed that the opening of the gate and the talks did not go ahead on June 25th. As you know the gates on our side of the border between Gibraltar and Spain are and have continued to be open, they have never been closed. It is the gates on the Spanish side that have been closed.

Q. (Susan King—ABC)

—You told us many things that you and the President did not talk about. … so he invited you to the Oval office, can you tell us what his message to you was?


I brought him up-to-date with matters in the Falklands which took quite a time. We discussed the Middle East in some considerable detail and we discussed East-West relationships and one or two bilateral matters. That is quite a lot in an hour.


Did he have a point to make to you?


We had lots of points to make to one another.

Q. (German TV: ARD)

Could you comment on President Reagan 's directive to stop the delivery of certain technical goods for the pipeline deal between the Soviet Union and the Common Market countries? [end p7]


This is the latest message which actually affects existing contracts as well as future contracts. The President, I know, is trying to bring about a more liberal regime certainly in Poland, an objective I can perfectly well understand and also a regime more in accordance with the Helsinki accords. We do have some difficulty over one particular existing contract and we did discuss that.

Q. (Scripps Harvard Newspapers: Walter Friedenberg)

You have become somewhat of a factor in Argentine domestic policy. What are your reflections about the current turmoil in Buenos Aires?


I had nothing to do with that turmoil. In any way. There was peace, I did not break the peace, the Argentines decided to invade, everything that happened since has followed from that. I decided to protect the islands because of the British people there who are entitled to look to us for their defence just as there are a number of American islands whose peoples are entitled to look to America for their defence if ever they were invaded. I imagine that the approach you would take if one of your islands were invaded would be exactly the same as I took. And I imagine you would tackle it with equal success and that you would stick to the answer that when you had recovered those islands they would have American sovereignty.

Q. (London Times: Nick Ashford)

Would you be able to inform the Commons when you return that President Reagan either endorses or he broadly supports your policy of guiding the islands towards self-government and your repeated refusal to discuss the sovereignty issue?


There is no sovereignty issue to discuss. Any more than there would be if some of your islands were captured by someone else and you went in to repossess them. The only analogies I can give is if a burglar goes into a house and takes everything away, then you get everything back, you are surely not going to discuss the ownership of what he took? It is exactly the same here. There is no sovereignty issue to discuss. There are of course a number of things where we would like to secure the co-operation of Argentine, particularly in business ventures, because we believe there are considerable resources to develop. So there was no difference between us on this matter.

Q. (German Broadcasting)

May I come back to the gas deal question? Do you have the feeling that there has been a change of position in the United States administration since the Versailles summit and the recent increase of embargoes of delivery of technology to the Soviet Union. Do you have the feeling that we are on the brink of a trade war in Europe? [end p8]


I don't think there has been a great deal of change. The particular contract that I am worried about now I was worried about at that time. And the question revolved around whether existing contracts could be exempted from any pronouncement which America made. So far existing contracts have not been exempted but I don't think I could detect any major change between Versailles and now because the same question was under discussion then.