Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after addressing UN General Assembly

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hyatt Hotel, New York
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1700-1730.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4455
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (arms control), Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), 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), Law & order, Northern Ireland

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I expect you would wish me first to concentrate on the talks we had with President Reagan over his coming talks with Mr. Gorbachev.

As you know, there were the six Heads of Government present at those meetings and a number of things were very clear.

We are all very pleased the President, in his speech this morning, announced that he would make an initiative before he went to his talks with Mr. Gorbachev and that met with a warm reception.

Second, it was very clear that we all fully support President Reagan in his efforts at Geneva and we believe that there can be no question of ever separating Europe from the United States, or ever dividing the Alliance on this matter.

Third, we hope that those talks will result in giving an impetus to the arms control negotiations.

We did obviously discuss one or two matters in greater detail, but we hope that they will result in unlocking the deadlock which has previously been evident at Geneva. We also pointed out that there are other arms control talks that [end p1] have been on for some 10 years in Vienna, and we have not even yet got the right data from the Soviet Union on which to negotiate, so one would like it if all of the arms control talks were unlocked at the same time.

We also pointed out that, of course, on chemical weapons the West has not been making any for a very long time and the Soviet Union has an enormous stockpile.

We also think that the main regional conflicts will have to be on the agenda and discussed. In other words, we believe that those talks should be very comprehensive talks, as they will probably affect the whole atmosphere of East-West relations and we hope will result in greater cooperation and greater achievement of the end which I have indicated.

Apart from that, I have seen a number of other people and those talks incidentally will continue tonight over dinner. They are not completed yet.

I have also seen, in the margins, Prime Minister Craxi and Mr. Peres, Prime Minister Peres of Israel and also Premier Zhao of China, and a number of other people in the margins of the United Nations and in the several receptions.

I also had the benefit of a bilateral meeting with President Reagan, when we discussed more widely than the talks with Mr. Gorbachev.

I think, having said that, it would be best if I left you to make your observations and ask your questions. [end p2]

Question (very low level)

…   . (regarding absence of M. Mitterrand. Has Mr. Gorbachev already cracked the Western Alliance?)

Prime Minister

No, he has not. It takes far more than that to put a crack in the wall of the Western Alliance. The Western Alliance is very fit and very strong and understands the issues at stake, and is not likely to be shaken by that kind of matter.

Question

How do you explain the absence of M. Mitterrand?

Prime Minister

I do not have to explain it. He has to explain it.

Question

It is a problem though?

Prime Minister

No, it is not a problem. An invitation was issued. He did not take it up. The rest of us did take it up, but just because he is not here does not mean that he would take a different view on the fundamental issues of the Alliance, the Western Alliance, as against the Soviet Union. The fundamental matter is a totally different ideological approach and a balance of armaments between the two. There is going to be no separation. There is going to be no difference of opinion [end p3] in the members of the Alliance on the whole fundamental things that will affect the talks. You are trying very hard to find a difference. Please let me assure you that your efforts have been noted, but will not be successful.

John Dickie ( “The Daily Mail” )

Prime Minister, what message, what signal, would you like the Russians to take from your meeting as leaders of the Western Alliance today?

Prime Minister

That the Western Alliance is united in fully supporting President Reagan as he goes to the talks in Geneva and that no efforts on the part of the Soviet Union will divide the Alliance; that we hope that a new impetus will come out of those talks on arms control; and we hope that there will be wider discussions on the regional conflicts; and we hope that it will herald an era of greater cooperation between two blocs of nations, each keeping their own philosophy, their own way of life; each respecting the right of the other to keep theirs and be secure in theirs. That might not be pure grammar, but it is what I mean.

Question

A few weeks ago you visited Jordan and you invited two members of the PLO …   . are you disappointed and what do you intend to do about it? [end p4]

Prime Minister

We invited two members—Mr. Milhem and Bishop Khoury—as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, the other two to be the Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan and the Foreign Minister; and the four of them were going to see Sir Geoffrey Howe. We had agreed before they came that they would renounce terrorism in London and that they would accept Israel's right to exist and broadly, the relevant United Nations Resolutions.

When they got to London and we just enquired to make certain that they were still prepared to confirm that view, we found that they were not. We were very disappointed, very disappointed indeed, because it had been our intention to try to support moderate Arab opinion and Arab opinion which totally renounced violence as a means of pursuing its ends, and we were disappointed, but we still thought it was right to try to support moderate Arab opinion.

John Osman

Mr. Shevardnadze, like President Reagan, called today for radical measures on nuclear disarmament and he also said—and I quote the English translation from the Russian: “Where verification with national technical means may be inadequate to provide the necessary degree of confidence, we are ready to supplement it with additional mutually agreed procedures.” Given Western insistence on verification, do you regard this as an encouraging sign from the Kremlin or simply as propaganda? [end p5]

Prime Minister

I think it is something that must be considered. I notice that he said “mutually agreed means” , “mutually agreed procedures” . In that case, the matter has to be further discussed.

You know that the comprehensive test ban treaty of course has fallen down on failure to agree on verification, and it may be that kind of thing that he has in mind.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, a two-part question on the Middle East

Number 1: in the light of your role in trying to help the process of peace-making, what is your assessment of Prime Minister Peres 's initiative and the response of King Hussein?

And the second part is: the UN Declaration is now being held up. It has not been made and it is questionable whether it will ever be made and the reports we have is that the Arab bloc has put an obstruction in calling for some censuring of Israel in this Declaration as well as the call for some global economic negotiations, so that is stymied right now.

Prime Minister

Well now look! Let us take the last one first. United Nations Declaration has not been made and I am not able to comment on something which has not happened, and I really do not think it is worth trying to do so.

With regard to Mr. Peres 's initiative, I was very pleased that he made clear his understanding—and he has this in [end p6] common with King Hussein—of the need to have an international framework, some international framework, for any negotiations between the Jordanian-Palestinian group of people and Israel, and I think that is very promising.

Question

A more parochial subject. Did you discuss with President Reagan the present state of Anglo-Irish talks and what progress they are making?

Prime Minister

I told the President of the talks that were continuing; that we had not yet reached final conclusions, but I hoped that we shall soon be in a position to do so. But you will already be aware that any final conclusions would be in the spirit with previous pronouncements, namely that any decisions affecting Northern Ireland would of course be made by the United Kingdom. Any decisions affecting the Republic of Ireland would of course be made from Dublin.

Question

I would like to ask you, this Government Inquiry regarding the Brixton and Toxteth Riots in 1981 certainly said that police as well as economic situations were not unconnected to those neighbourhoods' unrest. I would like to know what Her Majesty's Government has done since that Report in the way of positive action to correct some of Lord Scarman 's cited [end p7] deficiencies and why would it appear that these steps might be ineffective?

Prime Minister

Almost all of the Scarman proposals following those riots were implemented. I just checked that myself and have an immense list of the recommendations and the action which has been taken. It is an enormous thick file and they were implemented. And I think we must not get too disturbed that these things happened, in spite of the fact that they have been implemented. We must not in fact say that that nullifies the things that were done. Rather, we must continue with the things that were done, because I believe that they were absolutely right. One cannot say why these other things occur. Some of us may have some ideas, but I think it is best not to try to speculate on what particular things cause these incidents which are very very ugly.

Question

If I may have one follow up, do you mean then that the recommendations of the Lord Scarman Commission have not been fully implemented at this point and that perhaps this is a rather lengthy procedure?

Prime Minister

No. The recommendations of the Scarman Commission have been almost fully implemented. I cannot think of anything that [end p8] has not been fully implemented that it was thought advisable to implement.

What I am saying is that the fact the riots occurred again must not negative what has been done. We have to carry on with the things which have been done, because we believe that they were the right things to do in any event.

Question

On Monday, Irish Prime Minister Garrett FitzGerald told the United Nations that the time was coming in the immediate future to decide whether there was a sufficient basis for an agreement on Northern Ireland. He seemed to be indicating that it is possible that if there was no agreement the talks could end without any kind of real progress being made.

First of all, I would like to know if you have that feel yourself.

Prime Minister

Well, the talks continue and we are not yet in a position to say whether an agreement will result or what kind of an agreement, will result. We are only in a position to say that if an agreement does result, it will be in accordance with previous— “declarations” is perhaps too big a word—in previous things that we have said, that decisions affecting matters in Northern Ireland would of course be made by the United Kingdom; decisions affecting matters in the Republic of Ireland would of [end p9] course continue to be made by the Republic of Ireland, and therefore what we are seeking is far far greater cooperation. But I am not able to say whether the present talks will result in agreement. I hope so, and I hope that we shall be able to decide soon.

Question

Is the purpose of those talks not to find some way of sharing power across that border?

Prime Minister

Well, as I have indicated, all decisions north of the border—that is in Northern Ireland—would continue to be made by the United Kingdom. All decisions south of the border would continue to be made by the Republic of Ireland. Within that, there is a very great deal we can do with much heightened cooperation.

Question

Do you think you can share security forces …

Prime Minister

I cannot go further than I have said because you are asking questions which I cannot answer at the moment. I have indicated how the decisions will continue to be taken. [end p10]

Question

Did you or any of the other leaders seek reassurance from the President that arms control was not being downgraded as a Summit priority, or did you express any concern about the United States losing the pre-Summit propaganda war with Gorbachev?

Prime Minister

First, arms control is not being downgraded as a Summit priority.

Second, the President announced an initiative in his speech this morning, that he would be taking an initiative, so we did not have any problems over either of those matters at our talks today.

Question (Columbia News Service)

In your speech to the General Assembly this morning, you said that the work of agencies should not be sidetracked into political issues. As you know, Britain is a major contributor to UNRRA, the Palestinian Relief Agency. Do you feel that UNRRA has been sidetracked into political issues and does Britain plan to continue her present level of contributions to it?

Prime Minister

I think that the United Nations Relief Organisation has done superb work and I am very happy to pay great tribute to it. We shall continue to support it very strongly. [end p11]

Jason Williams (Cable News Network)

Good evening, Prime Minister. You have been a vocal opponent of economic sanctions against South Africa and yet you have joined with the Commonwealth Nations in a pledge of tougher action if there is no move towards the dismantlement of apartheid in the next six months. What brought about this change of mind?

Prime Minister

First, there are one set of economic sanctions on South Africa universally agreed through the Security Council, which are true sanctions. Those are sanctions under mandatory Resolution of the Security Council, that we do not in fact supply South Africa with arms. Those are true economic sanctions; we have been operating them for some time.

We also do a number of other things which we would do anyway by unilateral decision, when we are facing requests from the regime. First, we do not supply computers to anything connected with the security forces in South Africa and second, we do not supply nuclear material. Third, by agreement with Europe, recently, we reiterated our position that we do not supply oil, crude oil, from the North Sea to South Africa, and also by agreement with Europe, we agreed to withdraw our military attaches.

The only true sanction there is the one that is operated through the United Nations Security Council—the rest are a series of signals to the regime that we really think that they must—well we are convinced that they must change the way in [end p12] which they govern South Africa and enter into discussions with the black South Africans about how to involve all peoples in South Africa and putting black South Africans in the process of Government.

When we got the Commonwealth Conference, there were a number of people who said—they indicated that they wanted to put on total economic sanctions. Now, I remember the first time I attended a Commonwealth Council—it was at Lusaka—and the subject of discussion was Rhodesia, which eventually became Zimbabwe. Sanctions had been on under United Nations auspices for 12 years, and they had not worked, and of course they would not work in South Africa either. So there did not seem to be much point in going down the sanctions route.

We agreed to have a group of what are called “eminent persons” to go and discuss with President Botha—assuming President Botha will receive them—on how to get the dialogue going between President Botha and the black South Africans, and if there is anything that that group could do to help.

Now, what you have said is not strictly true. We agreed that after six months we would review progress and if there was not sufficient progress some countries said that they would be prepared to consider further measures which had the nature of sanctions. I must be absolutely candid. I was not one of those “some” .

Your question is not strictly accurate. I said that we must in fact review the situation after six months and I am not prepared to tie my hands. [end p13]

Question

Prime Minister, did the President give you any indication of just what exactly was included in his initiative that he is taking to Geneva? If so, were there any concerns that the other leaders had at the Summit this afternoon about those proposals?

Also, since you have met with Gorbachev, did the President ask you for any advice as to how best to deal with him?

Prime Minister

I am not going to go into any detailed arrangements which may be proposed for the Summit. We were all very impressed with the amount of work and effort, and indeed almost the complete dedication of work now to matters which will be discussed at the Summit. Clearly, a great deal of thought, a great deal of consultation, indeed, every effort is being made to decide precisely what to put forward in the Summit, and precisely how to tackle it, and that was evident.

I have met Mr. Gorbachev, but I have seen President Reagan several times since then and have given him my impressions and I just have nothing further to add. I think the world has seen a bit more of Mr. Gorbachev since then, because I invited him to London before he was made Secretary General and I think that every impression which I had and was able to communicate to others, has since then been abundantly confirmed by the kind of Mr. Gorbachev and Mrs. Gorbachev that we have seen.

Michael White

Prime Minister, you have referred to the initiative the President promised to make in his speech this morning. We understand that cross-border proposition to make the borders more often. You seemed to imply it was an arms control …

Prime Minister

No. I think there are two. One is that he expects to take an initiative after Mr. Gorbachev on the arms control field. You will be aware that the President put forward his proposals in Geneva in the spring. They did not receive anything like as much publicity, I think, as they warranted. But his proposals were put forward and are on the table in Geneva, in the spring.

Mr. Gorbachev has put forward counter-proposals and, as I understood it from the speech this morning, the President will in fact be putting forward his proposals.

Question

Did you make any specific points on any aspects of the arms control presentation or substance, SDI?

Prime Minister

I am not going into the detail of what was said, because I do urge you that if it is not possible for five or six heads of government to meet together without revealing what each and every one has said, then there is no point in meeting, and it will be a very bad day for diplomacy, for consultation, and if I might say so, for progress, if we cannot have a constructive meeting [end p14] without indicating everything. …

Question

But you expect him to make fresh proposals before December, before the end of the year, do you?

Prime Minister

I'm so sorry?

Question (‘Same Man’)

You said after Mr. Gorbachev, after the meeting, you said he was going to take another initiative.

Prime Minister

As I understand it, there will be a further initiative before the meeting. That is what I understood from the speech this morning. That is quite separate from the regional things.

Question (Irish Press, Dublin)

Mrs. Thatcher, do you still have complete confidence in Mr. Jack Hermon, head of the RUC police force after recent derogatory comments he made about the Irish Republic police force which angered Irish Prime Minister Garrett FitzGerald?

Prime Minister

May I ask you what those derogatory comments were? [end p15]

Question (Same Man)

Well they were reported widely in Ireland as being derogatory about the Irish Police Force.

Prime Minister

What were the comments directly quoted from the lecture that were alleged to be derogatory?

No, and I ask it for a very very good reason. The speech was seriously misrepresented in the media. Indeed, the reporter concerned, in an interview on BBC radio, subsequently made it clear that the article which he wrote was an expression of opinion and included some extracts, not necessarily verbatim, from the Chief Constable's address. We noted that while the Chief Constable has expressed concern at the scale of resources available to the Garda, he had paid tribute to the forces, specifically—specifically, he had said it was an excellent force of fine men, that the RUC and the Garda had a good relationship along the border at working level, and there was no lack of will by the Garda to combat terrorism.

Will you now tell me what was the basis of your question?

Question (same man)

Its basis was the reports that appeared in Ireland concerning those statements.

Prime Minister

I think you have now heard … that the reports are very very far from accurate and I think it does not help to repeat things … [end p16]

Same Man

Would you have the same confidence in Mr. Hermon then?

Prime Minister

I have said exactly what the position is, but it does not help if reports are inaccurate, then questions are founded on inaccuracies, even when those have been corrected and the full lecture is available for people there to see.

Question

Excellence, I was very touched about your speech to the United Nations today, that part concerning the refugees, because myself I am a refugee from Communist Roumania. Now, you said that you think you can do business with Gorbachev. You do not think you can help the whole world, not only the captive nations, by …   . Gorbachev to cancel the Treaty Peace of Yalta of 1945? Then there will be not political refugees in the world. There will be not human beings which as me were forced to leave the …   . where their parents are …   .

Prime Minister

I understand your strength of feeling, but I do not think your approach would be helpful at the present time. When I say I can do business with Mr. Gorbachev, I fully understand that Mr. Gorbachev, the Soviet Union and indeed, the Warsaw Pact countries, are Communist, they are likely to continue to remain Communist in my lifetime. I believe that he fully understands that we represent a free society. We are extremely proud of it; [end p17] that that free society produces a far higher standard of living, a far higher standard of human dignity, and enables freedom of choice that is not available elsewhere.

When I say I can do business, I understand—and I believe he does too—that in spite of those differences, which will in my view remain because I do not think the Communist bloc will change in my lifetime—that there are certain things which are in the interests of both blocs. One is that there shall never be conflict again, but two, that a way of avoiding conflict is to make certain that we each have security by virtue of a balance of armaments, and thirdly, that having that balance of armaments, we can perhaps pursue some of the things in the Helsinki Agreement more vigorously than they have been pursued in the past.

You see, I think you can do business with someone when you have taken an accurate measure of them; know what you cannot do and know what you can.

I understand your feelings, but I do not think that what you are proposing would be very helpful to achieve the objectives that we are seeking.

Same Man

Everything is possible step by step. Why … about the 1939 treaty between Nazi Germany and Stalin. Poland and Roumania and USSR are Communist countries. They have Communist regime over there. Why, why, why don't convince Gorbachev to give back to his comrades, his …   ., those parts of land who they stole? [end p18]

Prime Minister

May I say that I have re-read the history of the period to which you are referring, the great Summit Meetings which took place during the War and towards the end of the War, including the Yalta, the Potsdam, the Tehran and many others. I read and re-read them to try to learn from them, but I do not think that the approach which you are proposing at the moment would be helpful. Our immediate purpose is to try to ensure that there is not a conflict of arms again between the West and the East, that each can feel secure within its own borders and that within that security, we can have far more contacts and perhaps we shall always carry on the ideological battle, of course we shall, because we believe in it, and we believe that there are many many people who would wish to have those very freedoms that we take for granted here.

But I listened carefully; I understand your feelings, but right now I do not think that there would be any hope of doing what you propose and therefore I think you must leave us to try another way.

Question ( “Financial Times” )

Prime Minister, at the meeting of Western leaders today, did you specifically discuss President Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative and if so, did the US President renew his commitment made in Camp David, at Camp David, to you, that he would hold negotiations before the deployment of those weapons? [end p19]

Prime Minister

The SDI I have discussed with the President many times and he referred to it again in his speech this morning. As far as I am aware, the Camp David points remain, and they have been reaffirmed several times since that Camp David meeting. He did not specifically refer to them today, but I believe that they remain the basis of their approach and, as you know, recently what I would call the standard interpretation of the ABM Treaty was reaffirmed.

Question

This morning, at your speech, you referred to other countries which have deserved censure and have escaped by political expediency—censure from the UN. What countries did you have in mind?

Prime Minister

I am not going into some of the countries which would have fitted some of the descriptions. I think it is more tactful not to do so.