Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Feb 21 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference at British Embassy in Washington

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: British Embassy Rotunda, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1000-1035. The transcript begins in mid-sentence.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3863
Themes: Agriculture, Autobiographical comments, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Economy (general discussions), Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action

Prime Minister (starts in mid-sentence)

…   . the real value of the visit has been the opportunity, which we have seized, to put over the British point of view to the Ronald ReaganPresident, the United States Administration, Senators and Congressmen and, indeed, to millions of American people, on a very wide range of issues.

Arms control, of course, has been high up on the agenda and I hope that we have been able to contribute our views to the United States approach to Geneva and we have reaffirmed the four points on the Strategic Defence Initiative which we agreed at Camp David.

On East-West relations I found, particularly in my talks with Congressmen, a very very strong interest in making greater efforts at dialogue with the Russians and getting to understand their viewpoint the better and to having more contacts. They were very interested in what we had done and in the viewpoint which we put.

On economic issues, I need hardly tell you they have ranked fairly high, very high. The pound, the dollar, deficits, interest rates, protectionism, unemployment. On these and other subjects we had an excellent discussion over breakfast this morning with Secretary Shultz, with Mr. Baker, Mr. Block, [end p1] Mr. Brock, Mr. Baldridge and Mr. Walley.

On the British economy, I have sought to give a very clear picture of the British economy. In fact, as you know, as I indicated in the speech yesterday, apart from the fundamental problem of unemployment, which is of great concern, the British economy is performing at record levels of output, record standard of living, record investment.

I spoke yesterday in Congress and also was asked about Northern Ireland and our approach to the problems of Northern Ireland. We have stressed two things: first, the need not to do anything to support financially the IRA or in any other way, and have stressed how greatly that viewpoint has support from the Republic and we were of course helped very much in that by the action which Garret FitzGerald took while we were here in passing a law to prevent funds from going—particular funds—from going to the IRA. We also stressed the excellent relationship between the two governments headed by Garret FitzGerald and myself in trying to consult together to take forward a solution in Northern Ireland leading to stability and peace, and that any changes can only come about by consent, and that is fully understood both by the people who constituted the New Ireland Forum south of the border and by the other people in the Republic.

Finally, we discussed at considerable length the Middle East where, as you know we feel that the time is propitious for a new initiative. We very much favour the approach taken in the United States-Saudi communique and hope that matters there will gradually be taken forward.

We also had, of course, a brief discussion on Central America and you will have noticed that I pointed out perhaps what [end p2] is not as fully known this side of the Atlantic as at home, that we do keep troops in Belize at that government's request. It not only helps to keep democracy stable and firm in Belize, but it is our contribution to democratic stability in Central America.

I think … I am sure I have some more things to say but I think perhaps I have said enough and I will leave it to your questions now. [end p3]

Question

Prime Minister, you mentioned that the economic issues were of primary importance. Do you think you are getting any message through to President Reagan about the necessity of getting the deficit down?

Prime Minister

Well, I do not think he needs any messages to urge him to get the deficit down. I think he is very much aware of that and, of course was from the moment of the State of the Union Message last year, not this year, with the £150 billion down-payment and, of course, as you know, he has put quite fundamental changes to Congress in this State of the Union Message. So I do not think he needs any advice on that. The question is by how much and how and I found on Capitol Hill yesterday, indeed I found all over Washington, really what you are also saying: there is a recognition of the need to get the deficit down, because otherwise the cost of servicing the debt will be adding to public expenditure and that is the last thing the President wishes to do. It is how much and how, and at home, you know, that also happens. Everyone seems to be in favour of a lesser proportion of public expenditure in principle. It is the precise ways of reducing it on which the debate will occur.

Indeed, you do not have to tell me and you do not have to tell anyone in Washington that that is the case and that of course gives you the enormous burden that is going to come on public spending as the servicing of debt becomes a bigger proportion of public expenditure and that of course is one of the [end p4] reasons why the President is so anxious to reduce the deficit.

Question

Madame Prime Minister, there was a belief among many Western officials during the intermediate range, medium range talks with the Russians that they never negotiated in earnest because the United States had not actually begun to deploy Cruise and Pershing missiles; that we were trying to trade off paper missiles for Soviet concessions.

With the Strategic Defence Initiative, what gives you or indeed any leaders any confidence that the Soviets would be willing to make concessions on their offensive strategic missiles for a system that is so many years off in the future and indeed, is only at the very early stages of its research?

Prime Minister

Now, as far as Cruise and Pershing were concerned, there was undoubtedly a tremendous effort on the part of the Soviet Union to have some propaganda effect on people in the Western democracies to try to prevent the deployment of Cruise and Pershing. They were not successful. Indeed, the actual deployment was of great significance during the year in which it occurred and therefore the failure of the Soviet propaganda effort, that also was of great significance.

You then go on to equate some of the problems with SDI. Can I say how grateful I am to you for pointing out what I think is not sufficiently realised when people discuss this: there is an enormous long time between starting research, many [end p5] many years, and coming to any possibility of deployment. Some people, I am afraid, tended to telescope the time far too much.

Now, what gives me hope for reductions in nuclear weapons? And I am very well aware of what you are saying, that if only a proportion get through, then the first reaction could be well we have got to have more.

What gives me hope? I think really it is two things. I think it is the nature of the weapons themselves and the belief that we really have too many, and secondly, I think both the Soviet Union and the West wishes to maintain our security, but at a lower level of weaponry and at a lower level of cost. Now, to maintain our security, you have got to maintain the balance but at a lower level, of numbers, and therefore at a lower level of cost. And I think that there is not only the common interest in seeking to avoid conflict, because that occurs whether you belong to a democratic nation or whether you wish, in a Communist country, to put more into improving the standard of living, but I think there is a real wish to reduce the number of weapons and to reduce the cost.

All of a sudden, a number of things have come together, which I believe makes this possible. Not yet achievable, but possible.

Question

Were you reassured here, Mrs. Thatcher, that the Reagan Administration would be willing to delay deployment or negotiate on the Strategic Defence Initiative in return for Soviet concessions? [end p6]

Prime Minister

If it comes to deployment, then you have to negotiate, as the Ronald ReaganPresident indicated. We dealt with that at the Camp David communique. We dealt with it also in the statement he made yesterday after our talks. Deployment comes under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which as you know is a treaty without terminal date and it is acknowledged that if it comes to deployment you must negotiate. Do not forget the Soviet Union will also be doing research and in some ways it is ahead of us in things like an anti-satellite capability.

Question

Getting back to the economic issues, you complained in your speech about …

Prime Minister

Complained? I did not complain at all!

Question (same man)

…   . about the strength of the dollar, the US dollar. I am wondering, in your private discussions with the President, did you have any advice for him on the dangers the strength of the dollar might pose to the rest of the world? What were your private deliberations with him on this?

Prime Minister

We are all aware of the problems of the mounting strength of the dollar. It is not only problems for the rest of the world. [end p7] It is of course also problems for the industries in the United States which are based on exports. We do not know how long the resurgence of the dollar will continue, and in that sense, that we do not know, we are both trying to foresee what will be the effect both on the world and also on United States industries if it does continue.

I am afraid we have not any rapidly ready-made answers for it. I think we both believe that there are certain inherent balances in a market economy that will eventually turn it round, because of the adverse effect it would start having on great sectors of the American economy, and that too will be a factor which you expect to start to turn it round. When or how that will come, one does not quite know. I cannot pull out a whole series of sudden new answers, because at the moment I do not believe there are any. We had to put up our interest rate for a number of reasons. It was perceived that our money supply had got slightly slack. Sterling is holding slightly better than some of the other European currencies. We were all affected nevertheless again this morning by the resurgence of the dollar and we are all discussing the matter along with the deficit. It seems to us that the only fundamental thing that can be done is the reduction of the deficit. Now, precisely what effect that would have on the dollar is very arguable, very arguable.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, what did you talk to our Secretary of Agriculture Block about and our Ambassador Brock? Did you give them any assurances of any help for our problems on trade? [end p8]

Prime Minister

We are very much aware of the problems concerning agriculture both this side of the Atlantic and in Europe, and the fact that there could be a conflict here between the two and we will do everything we can, as far as Great Britain is concerned, to try to avoid that conflict. The United States has great surpluses, Europe has great surpluses, and there are considerable subsidies both sides of the Atlantic for those surpluses and we do not wish to get into competition in selling those surpluses and competitive subsidies.

I note very much what the Ronald ReaganPresident has proposed in his message to Congress about agriculture. We in the Community are trying to hold down the prices for agricultural products in surplus and the Commission has proposed zero price changes this year overall. I again cannot give you a sudden solution. Just to say that of course we discussed it. We discussed the problems of agriculture here, which are very well known to us, and the problems of the Common Agricultural Policy and its effect on the United States we also discussed in detail.

Question

…   . Back home, the miners' special delegate conference has given full support to Arthur Scargill to continue the strike. Can you give us your reaction to that please. [end p9]

Prime Minister

Naturally, I am disappointed, but when I agreed to see the TUC and when we asked the National Coal Board to take into account the points raised by the TUC, providing always that we maintained fully the right of the National Coal Board to manage the industry and their final decision after all due procedures have been followed, their final decision and right to close uneconomic pits, then there was a very detailed document which we had understood would not be a basis for negotiation, but which would form part of a settlement. The document itself was not to be a basis in any way, and the TUC also accepted that. So we were always ready to try; that we did not succeed did not fundamentally surprise me, because I have had to take the view by driving necessity of the evidence that the NUM Executive has not moved its position since the start of the strike and that the position which has been adopted is totally different from that ever taken by any other NUM Executive or any other trade union in industry.

So yes, I am disappointed, but for reasons of past experience and for reasons of what the NUM Executive has been saying, I had not really allowed my expectations to get too high. Disappointing but perhaps more miners will consider themselves now what to do.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, what were your suggestions and advice you gave to President Reagan on arms control and secondly, what are the East-West affairs you discussed with him in the Congress? [end p10]

Prime Minister

What did I advise about arms control? Well, we do not necessarily reveal all the advice and all the discussions which we have. Our interest is the same on trying to secure reduction on both intercontinental ballistic missiles and on the intermediate missiles, and the question is how to bring that about. I believe that the Soviet Union also is interested in that, but it is not going to be easy to decide tactically how to handle the opening rounds, and obviously that will be the subject of very intense consideration during the coming days, as it has been during past days. But I would be surprised if the final tactics are determined more than a few days before because continual discussion usually raises new facets of the problem, and it always helps to discuss it with someone else.

What other subjects did we discuss? Of course, we discussed Central America.

East-West: I found the greatest possible interest in the view that we have taken in Britain that we really must try to have more talks with more members of the Soviet Government. You know that that arises from the viewpoint that we had taken that we should do that and from the visit of Mr. Gorbachev to Britain. I think that you are the better likely to get good results from arms control talks if you have more knowledge of the people whom you are negotiating with; more understanding of their concepts and their ideas; and therefore the approach that they are likely to take and also more understanding of the kind of reassurances from the West that they are likely to require. And you will understand the need for that because of certain thing I said in my speech [end p11] yesterday, because one of the things that I have found as I have gone round in the last year is the great difficulty of convincing some of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw Pact countries that the United States and the West are absolutely sincere in wanting armaments reductions, and that the whole tendency of democratic peoples is of the way of the kind of people we are, to want perpetual peace, but to want it and to make certain that the defence of our values is secure.

So I do think that if we are to get better results in arms control talks we ought to have more dialogue and more understanding of one another's viewpoint, because they want security too.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, Dame Rebecca West once said, with respect to you, that men would rather be ruined by one of their own sex than saved by a woman. Is there any one event in your early life that comes to mind that was instrumental in forming your character and later on you took over the leadership of Great Britain's leading establishment …   .

Prime Minister

I do not think one's character is formed by one event. As I said, I have been at it nearly sixty years now and I cannot remember any one event that was outstanding. I think it is just the cumulative effect. [end p12]

Question

Madam Prime Minister, ever since the period of Gorbachev 's visit to the United Kingdom, there have been problems with various of the US allies and a number of Commonwealth nations. New Zealand, Australia, and so on. Canada, of course, has had long-standing opposition to policies involving the defence of the West. Recently, a dispute has arisen involving the O1 stations that are on Canadian territory. You yourself sent your Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Howe, to meet with the government of Bulgaria, which has been considered anathema in many Western circles.

How much do you know, or how much can you tell us about the deal which was struck between Queen Elizabeth, Lord Peter Carrington and Gorbachev?

Prime Minister

The Queen did not see Mr. Gorbachev. I simply do not understand. The Queen did not see Mr. Gorbachev. Point No. 1, we did not have any deal struck between Great Britain and the Soviet Union through Mr. Gorbachev. There were not any deals were struck, so you are asking a question on the premise that deals were struck. The premise is wrong, so the question falls. That is plain straightforward logic. Now what was the other question?

New Zealand. Can I just go on, because you did ask quite a complicated question which must have taken you a very long time to work out! New Zealand. I am as disappointed as you are in the approach taken by the David LangeNew Zealand Prime Minister. He is very much aware of my views. He is saying that no ships can visit New Zealand unless there is a clear declaration to the effect that they do not carry nuclear weapons. He knows my view and I [end p13] will just repeat it: that all our ships are seconded to NATO. At any moment's notice they might have to be asked—instructed—to take up NATO positions, and therefore they must carry whatever is appropriate to their NATO task, and I have no intention whatsoever of revealing whether or not a nuclear armoury is part of their weaponry aboard any particular ship, and therefore either they must not ask whether they are carrying them or must accept that if they ask we will not say. I shall be very disappointed if Royal Naval ships cannot visit New Zealand. The people of New Zealand are very close to the people of Britain and I think they will be disappointed too, but I cannot answer and will not answer that question.

Now, Canada: can I just point out that Canada did do some testing of Cruise missiles on her territory, and that was, I think, her contribution to getting the Cruise missiles deployed on time. So I think we can get over most of these problems, but I confess I am very worried about the New Zealand one.

Question

Are you speaking …   . (inaudible) …   .

Prime Minister

Look! I can only speak—as you would know—if I might very respectfully say to you the question is superfluous. The only government I can speak for is the Government of the United Kingdom. Other governments are totally independent. [end p14]

Question

You have twice today mentioned your conversations with President Reagan on the subject of Central America. May I ask you, are you in full agreement with the President on his view that US support of the Contras in Nicaragua is a moral responsibility, a moral duty of the United States, in the same way that it would be to support the rebels in Afghanistan?

Prime Minister

That is a matter for the Ronald ReaganPresident. I do not interfere in the view which he takes. That is a matter for the President.

Question

Prime Minister, can I return to the question of the coal strike. Given what has happened, to avoid further disappointment would it now be wise to refrain from making any further attempts at negotiation until more than half of the miners are back at work?

Prime Minister

We made this one last effort. I do not see any prospect of any further effort.

Question

Yesterday, you spoke about the presence of British troops in the South Atlantic. Do you have any plans, or are you considering any new ideas, to get the talks with Argentina on the Falklands dispute moving again? [end p15]

Prime Minister

No, certainly not! The Falkland Islands are under British sovereignty; their people wish most earnestly to stay British. Their wishes are paramount. That is a right to self-determination enshrined in the United Nations Charter. A nation now like Argentina, which has just come to democracy and has expressed its own self-determination, cannot require self-determination for itself and deny the same right to others.

Question

Prime Minister, have you drawn any conclusions about the role of intervention in foreign exchange markets from your discussions? And if the pressures on sterling continue, would you be prepared to increase interest rates again?

Prime Minister

Has one drawn any conclusions? I do not think there are any that I can …   . just pull out of the hat. No, as you know the dollar is surging again this morning and the Deutschmark has gone down again. It must be a new fifteen-year low for the Deutschmark and, as you know, you will be the first to know. You always have a go about interest rates and you always know that I cannot answer.

Question

Prime Minister, yesterday on the Hill, you made an understandably negative allusion to Adolf Hitler and you quoted Bismark pejoratively. With the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II coming up, how deep is Anglo-West German [end p16] reconciliation and how will your government and you personally observe May 8th this year?

Prime Minister

How … I'm so sorry. The last part of your question …

Question

How will your government …   . I understand Baroness Young made an announcement that may be taken back. How will you observe the anniversary this year on May 8th?

Prime Minister

The Federal Republic of Germany is a staunch member of NATO and the Western Alliance and she is a very true and faithful member of the Western Alliance.

With regard to how we will celebrate VE-Day and the celebration will also include the memory of those who have lost their lives in the Far East and recollection of their sacrifice, we propose to do it by having a service on VE-Day in Westminster Abbey where, of course, there is the tomb of the unknown warrior. And there will, of course, be a number of other special celebrations by various parts of the Armed Forces or by various groups of our people, but those will be privately organised. The main observance of VE-Day will be by the service in Westminster Abbey attended by the Queen.