Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Sep 12 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Al Ahram

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram
Editorial comments: 1730-1830 MT gave interviews for her Middle Eastern trip. The interview ends with a message to Middle Eastern readers of Al Ahram , which may have been published separately from the interview.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3277
Themes: Defence (arms control), European Union (general), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Terrorism

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

People in the Middle East feel that until now Europe did not exercise an accountable role in efforts aimed at solving the crisis. Your Excellency, first: what are your comments on that?

Prime Minister

I remember at the Venice European Summit, which was the early 1980s, that we did issue a declaration which I think has stood the test of time. I remember we discussed it for a very long time because each and every member country there at the Summit had a viewpoint, and we were very conscious that the wording itself was important, so almost every half-sentence was discussed and debated.

I think that has stood the test of time.

After that, I remember we had several visits from the Community to a number of the countries concerned—both to some of the Palestinian people and to the Israeli countries—trying to work out how, for example, one would carry out a test of opinion of the Palestinian people, and I remember that we ourselves did a great deal of work on it, because it is quite complicated. When you get down to details it is quite complicated.

So we did a great deal of that, partly to try to take the position forward and partly because we were aware that it is [end p1] one thing to talk in general terms; it is another to translate general propositions into specific proposals. And then, you are right, different talks got underway and apart from that, we have not mounted a major initiative.

I think I can tell you the reason why. I think one of the most significant things in achieving progress in Middle Eastern matters is the stance which the United States takes and how far the United States can influence Israel in getting her to the table for talks to commence. That is and was the most important thing, and therefore, we do not want to get wires crossed or get in the way, but we are very much aware of that factor.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

But do you expect an increasing role for Britain after your visit to the area?

Prime Minister

I have always myself, whenever I have seen King Hussein, let the United States know what we talked about, what my views were and any comments which I thought might be helpful in taking the situation forward, and frequently, when President Mubarak has been to Washington he has come to discuss matters with me. It has always been very very valuable. So there has been a continued dialogue really between the three of us when any pair of nations is together. Whenever I have been over to the United States, I have always discussed the matter with President Reagan. If Mr. Shultz comes to London, then I discuss the matter with him here. I discuss it with President Mubarak, I discuss it with King Hussein. There is a good deal of discussion and I [end p2] think each of us knows the other's views, but I do find sometimes where there is a possible misunderstanding, it is easier and quick to unblock it. So I do believe that we do carry out an important role and I am only sad that things are going very slowly. I would have liked progress to have been made, particularly since the last United States election. I felt that it could go a little faster because there is always a certain urgency about it.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Speaking more frankly, Mrs. Prime Minister, what are your views on the adequacy of USA efforts, given the size of the problem and the extent of American interest in the region?

Prime Minister

It is always a great mistake for a politician to respond to an invitation of a journalist when the person starts speaking more frankly!

The United States and we have many discussions on this subject and we do try to think out any ideas which may be helpful, to feed them into the United States or into our other friends in the Middle East, and it is one of the things that I never go to the United States without discussing. So we certainly do try our level best, in conjunction with our great friends, the United States.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

A second question. There are a lot of reports about the necessity of holding an international conference or an [end p3] international umbrella under the auspices of the United Nations to find a solution to the Middle East deadlock. What is Britain's view on that?

Prime Minister

I do not believe that such a conference would find a solution. I think there are quite a number of people in the world who think that all you have to do is get all the countries together round a table and some solution which has eluded us until now will miraculously emerge. Life is not like that! All that happens is that the old arguments merely are put again and again and before you were ever to think of such a conference, you would have to somehow have prepared the way ahead, in many bilateral discussions, and at the moment I do not see that an international conference would be helpful, though there are some who are as anxious to get a settlement as we are.

So I think that we have to have more limited discussion among several nations.

I can quite understand that there is a moderate Arab view that they wish to have quite widespread support for the talks into which they will have to enter. That I understand and that we seek to attain. I think that is different from a particular recipe which I do not feel would be fruitful unless, after many discussions we decided to go that way. But certainly, I see no reason to think that that way would help at present.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Well I do agree with you completely on that point, indeed. [end p4]

What is your view about reports that London may be the venue for the dialogue between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation?

Prime Minister

If at any time we were to meet a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, then I would assume that it would be in London, but whether or not now is the time …   . I do not believe that at the moment it is the time because, as you know, the negotiations between Jordan and the United States came across one or two difficulties which must be resolved.

But I will discuss these matters when I go to Jordan with the King and I would really rather wait until I have had the benefit of those talks.

If there were to be such a meeting, London would be a natural place.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Prime Minister, I mean, the dialogue between the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and Israel, not between Britain and Jordan.

Prime Minister

Oh I see! I have never heard the proposition before, but obviously if it were put to us, naturally we would consider it.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

You would accept it? [end p5]

Prime Minister

No. If the proposition were put to us, naturally we would consider it, but you never dash into accepting things you know without discussing them with all of the main parties. Never! Because if you do, they would not be successful, so you have to discuss these things, particularly on matters as sensitive as this. I have never heard such a proposition, but if it were put to us by all parties, naturally we would consider it.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

For many years, the West was saying that the PLO was inflexible throughout. Do you see the PLO-Jordanian accord as a positive starting point on the road to peace?

At the same time, it is clear that the USA seems to continue to support Israel and prolong the issues …   . for example, debating on the formation of a Palestian delegation. Why do we not see more positive steps on the part of the West?

Prime Minister

There are a lot of questions in that one question aren't there? Quite a lot, and I scarcely know which to pick up first!

As I indicated at the beginning, part of the purpose of this visit is to indicate that we support the moderate Arab view. That means that we totally and utterly reject the use of terrorism as a weapon in international affairs in diplomacy. That means that we would hope that the PLO will be able to reject terrorism and will be able to accept Resolution 242 which now has quite a long history attached to it, and we believe that it would have to do so before any direct negotiations were entered into. So our [end p6] own position on that is clear: we totally and utterly reject terrorism and do not meet with people who wish to use terrorism as a weapon.

Now, you then went on about the names in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. I am very disappointed that we have not been able … that the United States has not yet been able to agree names … because I think that this is the first and very very important step, and I hope that names will eventually be agreed. I do think it is very important to achieve this first step in this American initiative, because once that has been achieved I think that others might follow, and I am a little bit concerned that we have not yet got agreement on the names and that also is a matter I shall be discussing.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

On international terrorism, many in the West tend to link this with the Middle East. Does Mrs. Thatcher see any objective grounds for such a standpoint?

Prime Minister

I think that there are obviously a number of terrorist organisations in the Middle East. I mean, we have seen that in the Lebanon—a number of them. One worries very much indeed. One terrorist organisation sometimes offers help to others and we are deeply concerned at any nation that offers training or weapons to a terrorist organisation. In total conflict with all international diplomacy. Deeply concerned. But there are a number of terrorist organisations in the Middle East. I do not think anyone would argue. [end p7]

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Only in the Lebanon?

Prime Minister

… would argue against.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Only in Lebanon you mean?

Prime Minister

Indeed, I mean, you will find that some of them claim that they have been the organisation which has carried out murderous attacks elsewhere, as you know.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Your Excellency, what do you perceive as the roots of such terrorism? I mean, while we all denounce international terrorism, does not Mrs. Thatcher feel that, ignoring the root causes, the big powers have to shoulder some responsibility for such desperate terrorist action?

Prime Minister

Look! Terrorism for me is never justified and if any person thinks that by murdering and maiming innocent men and women and children his cause will be furthered, as far as I am concerned he is totally wrong. As long as they are prepared to use terrorism I will not lift a finger to help them, but where there is a legitimate cause, that cause must be properly discussed with the people concerned and that I accept and that is why I say now that we wish [end p8] to support the moderate Arab nations which utterly reject terrorism. That is part of the purpose of this visit.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Going back to the …   . relations, your Excellency, no doubt your impending visit to Egypt makes history in that it is the first visit by a serving Prime Minister since Winston Churchill was there during the Second World War. Can we describe this visit as one that marks the beginning of new relations between the two countries? Can we expect relations to grow in different fields, political, economic and others?

Prime Minister

I think it is a demonstration of our regard for Egypt and our knowledge of some of the difficult economic problems that lie ahead; of a wish to reaffirm and renew our friendship with Egypt; of our wish to help with some of her problems—I think I am opening the waste water project and doubtless we wish discuss others; and it is a demonstration of our regard and a renewal of friendship rather, more than a kind of fresh initiative. Fresh initiatives arouse enormous hopes and expectations. I think steady, constructive friendships often have achieved good results.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Could we touch on some specific issues your Excellency wish to discuss with President Mubarak? [end p9]

Prime Minister

Well obviously, we shall discuss the Middle Eastern problem. The Arab-Israel problem. I have not the slightest shadow of doubt we shall also discuss the Iran-Iraq War which goes on, and all of us are so anxious for it to end, and none of see the way towards it.

We will discuss the situation in Ethiopia and the Sudan and the help that we have been able to give. As you know, we have always traditionally had a great interest and links with the Sudan, and we are very conscious of the considerable problems the Sudan is also facing.

We will also, I expect, discuss relations with Libya. As you know, we do not have diplomatic relations with Libya and you know the reasons for that.

Doubtless, we will have to consider as well some of the great international economic problems, because the state of the world economy is of particular importance to those countries which need help with their development; and any particular problems which Egypt wishes to discuss with us.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Can we take one international question? With the Geneva Summit approaching, the whole world seems to be …   .

Prime Minister

…   . that of course is a thing that we shall both discuss because East-West affects the whole world. Of course. [end p10]

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

…   . the whole world seems to be searching with high hopes for a turning point. Mrs. Thatcher, what do you envisage for this meeting and is there such a thing as a European lobby on both sides to help minimise possible dangers?

Prime Minister

I think that both countries—the United States, who is our great friend and ally, because let me make it clear that I am not neutral in this: the United States is our great friend and ally—we believe passionately in the same things and we are allies. I think that the United States is very well aware of any problems. I should be very surprised if the Soviet Union was not also aware of the problems. I think both—our allies, the United States, and the Soviet Union—have a heightened perception of the problems that can arise.

I hope and believe that although we on our side, the United States side, hold totally different views from those on the Soviet Union side about how a country should be run, that we have one great interest in common: that is to avoid another conflict.

We know that we will not change Mr. Gorbachev 's view about Communism and about how he should run his country. He, I believe, knows absolutely that he will never change my view nor—let me put it the other way round—he will never change the President of the United States, President Reagan 's view—nor the view of the allies about democracy and how to run a country. So no-one is going into it except with a pretty realistic knowledge of the other side. That is good! That is good! It is much better to know the person and have made an assessment of the person with whom you are discussing. Now, when you go beyond that, I do think it is [end p11] important that President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev have very good and thorough talks, because you do learn a lot. I had long talks with Mr. Gorbachev when he came here and yes, they were very frank, and yes, they were very realistic and they were the better for both. We could discuss well, genuinely. I am sure that that will happen between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev and that is good, that is good.

What I think the world is also expecting is that as a result of that discussion, not only will the discussion be very thorough, but there will come from that a way to unblock the Geneva negotiations on arms control, and obviously the United States will be thinking very carefully about how to achieve that, and I hope that the Soviet Union is also thinking very carefully, because it is in both our interests not only that there should never be another conflict, but it is in our interests to reduce the weaponry in the world so that we may—both sides—have more money to spend on other things which will be much much more constructive, in raising the standard of living both of our own peoples and of helping the Third World to raise their standard of living, which would mean that there were less causes of trouble in the rest of the world.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Are you optimistic about the repercussions of such a Summit Meeting? [end p12]

Prime Minister

I am very aware of the difficulties of it because I think everyone is aware of the difficulties of it, but I think they are making superhuman efforts to make sure that it is a success and therefore will be something from which the world can take confidence that we are making superhuman efforts to find a way of living together, which we can—we have to—in the same world—we have to—and at the same time superhuman efforts to get down the level of weaponry and, I stress, with each side still being certain that its own defence is sure. That is important. We must know that our defence of our own way of life is sure. So, I assume, must the Soviet Union. They must also be secure in their own defence, and it is on that basis that I think we can …   . come to agreements which will unblock … or will come to a modus operandi …   . which will unblock the Geneva negotiations and find a way ahead.

You see, the NATO Alliance is never going to attack the Warsaw Pact countries. We are a totally defensive alliance, totally, … the constitution of NATO … it is a defensive alliance. We will defend our own way of life and beliefs and we fully expect the Soviet Union must also feel secure and that is why you have to be so careful in arms control talks that you get the reductions in arms weapons, so that each side can be sure of its own defence at all stages.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

Last question, Ma'am! Regards the European-Arab dialogue. Does Mrs. Thatcher feel that it achieved its goal or do you agree with the Arab view that this dialogue did not achieve much? What ideas does your Excellency have to animate this dialogue so that it contributes positively to issues of mutual interest? [end p13]

Prime Minister

Well you know, we do have so many talks and discussions and I do think it is important that those continue. Perhaps it is that one somehow expects too much of any particular discussion. The acid test of whether things are right is what would happen if they stopped and I think if they stopped a lot of people would be very worried that our understanding would not grow—it would lessen—and therefore I think it is important that we do take the opportunity to talk as much as we can both separately with our Arab friends and sometimes in larger fora.

Nafie Ibrahim, Al Ahram

I know that Your Excellency rarely has time to give interviews and I am particularly thankful for this opportunity. I wonder if Your Excellency would like to have any message sent to the different people through Al Ahram?

Prime Minister

Of course I would. May I just take a moment to formulate it.

I am very much looking forward to my visit to both Egypt and to Jordan. On that visit, I hope to be able to see ordinary people in their daily lives, because that is where you get the most feel from a country. We in Britain are very interested in each of these countries and in the future of their peoples and our interest is far deeper and wider than that of great political problems or great trading problems. It is a genuine interest of these people because we know them and wish to continue our age-old friendship.