Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with Italian Prime Minister (Bettino Craxi)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1540-1625. A copy of this transcript is filed in PREM19/1819.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3753
Themes: Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Trade, Energy, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union (general), Transport, Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Executive (appointments), Law & order, British relations with Italy

Signor Craxi (Interpreter)

The delegations of the British Government and the Italian Government have had fruitful conversation, such as the one between myself and the British Prime Minister. This opportunity of meeting here in Florence has allowed us to take stock of the excellent relations between us and we have once again been able to verify our relations of great esteem, friendship and frankness.

Our conversations have been very useful, both because they have enabled us to exchange views on the international problems of importance to both of us, allowing us also to examine our bilateral relations. In the light of this, we have signed important agreements concerning the collaboration between our two countries, one regarding extradition and the other one concerning aerial traffic and the Italian signing of adhesion to collaboration project in the field of peaceful nuclear research.

In summary, I would like to tell you about common concerns and the concern concerning the trend of the disarmament negotiations, that we would like to meet the great expectations that have been raised and which should not therefore be disappointed. We know that there are difficulties before us that still have to be solved. [end p1]

We have also proceeded to a non-optimistic examination of the way in which the Middle East problems have been existing because the initiatives that would have led us to a solution seem to have failed and for the moment we are faced by a situation of deadlock instead of progress.

We have examined in depth, therefore, the problems also existing in the field of the Community area, problems that Great Britain will also have to tackle when assuming the Presidency.

An exchange of views has also taken place and we have been able to see once again the good collaboration between our two Governments in the struggle against international terrorism or any type of terrorism that still faces us and there is that need, therefore, that this collaboration shall go on together with a strong will of overcoming terrorism with a struggle that would be as intransigent as possible.

I have thanked Mrs. Thatcher for the positive answer that the British Government has given to the Italian request of having an enlargement to seven, that is including Italy and Canada, in the Monetary Club.

We have also exchanged views about the economic summit that will take place in Tokyo in the coming months. The economic summit takes place in a year which is marked by a particular situation with perspectives that can be encouraging once if they are met by Government will and capacity to face the monetary and economic situation throughout the world. [end p2]

Finally, we have also stressed the will of both our Governments to honour the friendship between our countries by collaboration and relationship that will continue to be a close one. [end p3]

Prime Minister

Prime Minister Craxi, Ladies and Gentlemen:

May I first thank Prime Minister Craxi for holding these Anglo-Italian consultations here in Florence. It is my first visit to Florence and sadly it is only a brief one, but I shall have a chance to see something of Florence's treasures immediately after this press conference.

The Prime Minister has already given you an account of the main issues we have discussed and I think it is fair to say that we found ourselves substantially in agreement on most of them, which is a reflection of the extent to which our two Governments keep very closely in touch in between meetings of this sort, and a tribute to the excellent work done by our respective ambassadors, and may I say how pleased we were to welcome Ambassador Bottai to London.

We had a thorough discussion of East-West relations and arms control, as the Prime Minister indicated. I explained to Signor Craxi the reasons why we have rejected Soviet demands for a freeze on the modernisation of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. Our force is a strategic force and the minimum necessary to deter an attack on the United Kingdom. It amounts to a mere 3%; of Soviet nuclear force. It is not relevant to the negotiations on intermediate nuclear weapons. In any case, the INF negotiations are bilateral negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union and cannot involve constraints on third country forces. We have always made clear, however, that if the strategic nuclear forces of the United States and the Soviet Union were to be reduced very substantially, then we would be prepared to consider the position of our forces, but of course, we are a long way from that. [end p4]

The Prime Minister told you we also discussed European Community matters, though perhaps rather less than in the past. I take this as an encouraging sign. The debate of the last year or two about institutional questions and the future shape of the Community is over, and we have to focus on the serious and detailed questions of the Community's management.

I told the Prime Minister that during the forthcoming United Kingdom Presidency of the European Community we should want to concentrate on a number of practical issues. Further steps to complete the Common Market; to reduce the burden of regulations; to liberalise transport; perhaps above all, to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. On this last, we both agreed that the immense cost of intervention and storage of surplus products could simply not be sustained.

On bilateral matters, we confirmed the very good cooperation which exists between Britain and Italy in a number of areas, including—and I stress this—collaboration on helicopters. A great deal of nonsense was talked during the recent Westland affair about a choice between the United States and Europe. Anyone who deals with these matters knows that it is not a case of either/or but a case that we both need Europe and we both need America. We need to promote both collaboration with Europe and with the United States. I am delighted that a solution has been found that will permit both an important Italian stake in Westlands and continuing collaboration between Westlands and Augusta on the EH.101 and the A.129 Mark 2 helicopter. [end p5]

On international financial matters, I was able to tell the Prime Minister that we agree that arrangements need to be made to allow Italy to take part in discussions of exchange rates, especially when these involve important decisions affecting her. We shall certainly not stand in the way of a satisfactory solution which enables this to happen. Finance Ministers will be working out the details next month.

If I could just mention briefly three final points, before taking questions:

First, our discussions dealt with terrorism, and I congratulated Signor Craxi on the progress made by your Government in dealing with the problem in Italy. Our Foreign Ministers signed an important extradition treaty. May I also here express my sympathy at the recent murder of a most distinguished former Mayor of Florence at the hands of terrorists.

Secondly, we both welcomed the forthcoming meeting of the Anglo-Italian Round-Table in Naples.

And lastly, may I mention the excellent work done by the British Institute here in Florence. Alas, I shall not have time to visit it during my very brief stay, but I have heard a great deal of its achievements and take this opportunity to congratulate the Director and his staff upon them, and wish them success in the appeal which has been launched for funds to safeguard the Institute's future.

All together, a very successful and happy bilateral between Britain and Italy in Florence here today! [end p6]


I have a question for Prime Minister Craxi. Have you agreed on some initiative to stop the war between Iraq and Iran?

And I have a question for Mrs. Thatcher. The oil situation is in favour of Great Britain. How does Great Britain intend to proceed about prices and the international market for oil?

Signor Craxi

If our Governments would be convinced that any initiative that they would take that could become useful for the solution of this terrible conflict, it is quite evident that we would not refrain from taking these initiatives, but no-one has convinced us about the possibility of exercising this type of influence. Let it be this way! Pray to God it may be so! If we could in any way induce these countries to cease fire and to find a way to peace, we would do so!

Prime Minister

I agree with what Prime Minister Craxi has said about the Iran-Iraq matter. If there were any new initiative, we should already have taken it. Although we are all anxious to end this war, it is easy to state one's objective; it is much more difficult to find a way of achieving it.

With regard to oil, may I make this quite clear: we are an oil-producing country, but we believe that the fall in the price of oil is to the benefit of the world economy and will release many many resources for increased trade and therefore [end p7] countries will hope to pick up on trade some of the income which as oil producers they may have lost from exporting oil. So, although we have to deal with both sides of the balance sheet, both as a producer and a consumer of oil, we believe the fall in price is to the advantage of the world economy and therefore to the advantage of exporting countries like ourselves.


Can I speak in English? I would like to know from Mrs. Thatcher, you are building now the Channel [Tunnel] jointly with the French people. Are you not afraid that it could be a terrorist playground?

Prime Minister

I look forward to the Channel Tunnel being built between France and Britain. I believe it is something we can do for our generation of young people that has not been done before. I point out that it is all going to be financed out of private finance, which is something that no-one would have dreamed could have happened a few years ago.

There are always dangers from terrorism. We know of them in Italy, we know of them in the United Kingdom. There are dangers of terrorism on ferries, on aircraft, in airports, on coasts, in cities. Everything has its terrorist dangers. We took that into account in the decision we reached and we shall take the usual precautions, do everything possible to prevent any acts of terrorism of the kind which you mention. [end p8]


I would like to say to the Prime Minister that she has presented the British point of view. In speaking of the French and British systems, in counting these systems, have you agreed on this or have there been different views?

Signor Craxi

I have been able to tell the British Prime Minister that in the Italian view we do not think that this is a question preventing the success or the moving on of the negotiation and this is not the most important question. Yes, it is important for Great Britain and as Mrs. Thatcher has said to me, because this is the British deterrent system, but this is not the obstacle that is going to prevent in the future once the negotiation will start moving and will not prevent a well-balanced agreement that will have to take into account everything.

Prime Minister

… the question aright, and it is not very easy to hear it all. May I make it quite clear that our French friends and ourselves take the same view each about our own independent nuclear deterrent. They are strategic; they are last-resort defence for our respective nations. Each of them is a minimal number which is needed to be effective as a deterrent. They are both strategic. Our own—and I do not think France is very different—our total strategic weaponry represents only 3%; of the strategic weapons which the Soviet Union has. They really are therefore irrelevant for the talks which are taking place between the Soviet Union and the United States, for reasons which [end p9] you can see: if ours only represent 3%; of the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union and the United States have to get their strategic weaponry down an enormously long way before our strategic weapons have become relevant. If they do get it down substantially, enormously, then of course we would consider also negotiating with ours, but there is so far to go before that happens that the question does not become pertinent at this moment.


I have the same question for both Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Craxi. I imagine that in your talks you have also spoken about the perspectives of the East-West negotiations after the last Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Can we know what your assessments have been about this? Thank you.

Mr. Craxi

I have already said at the beginning of this press conference that the Geneva meeting has raised many expectations. It has been important because it has re-established a situation of dialogue; negotiations have resumed, but up to now concrete results have not appeared. The positions appear distant ones, starting from the condition as regards the SDI initiative. So our assessment is that everything must be done to avoid a deterioration of the situation. This, in my view, requires an evolution of the Soviet approach, especially about this question that we have already discussed, that is the SDI initiative. If the Soviet position would become a pre-condition [end p10] therefore blocking the development of the negotiation, then I think matters would rapidly deteriorate from negotiation success point of view.

We have stressed all the time for this not to happen and we are going to continue to do so. It has seemed to us that the American position included on a potential basis all the elements that the Soviet Union would require as a guarantee, that is the non-military application of the results of the space research but these negotiations are necessary because they must guarantee that no security decisive element would be upset in the balanced systems. In other words, we have proceeded to a careful assessment of the situation.

Prime Minister

… one or two words to that. Both President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev have said that they have an aspiration in a world where there are no nuclear weapons, but that I think is an aspiration and I think it is important in the meantime to get on with the practical things which could be achieved provided Mr. Gorbachev really has the will—and I am sure President Reagan has—to get the number of nuclear weapons down, and I think it is very important to concentrate, not on distant aspirations, but on practical measures of reduction of weapons now—practical measures such as getting the number of strategic weapons down on both sides; practical measures such as accepting President Reagan's suggestion on intermediate weapons, that there should be zero on both sides, but taking zero as relating to the global [end p11] scene. It is no earthly good having zero-zero in Europe, if some of the weapons belonging to the Soviet Union could be moved up right over to the eastern side of the country and then be moved back. That could not be anything like equality, so it has to be zero-zero on a global basis, and that would take a few years to work towards that. Practical measures to achieve agreement on reduction of chemical weapons, where the United States has a few we have none; the Soviet Union has a lot, and it is important to get hers down. Practical measures on reduction of conventional forces, particularly on the Soviet side, where they have greatly superior numbers of conventional weapons to us; and the more one gets down nuclear weapons, the more something nearer a conventional balance becomes important.

So I think we are both saying the same thing. Let us concentrate on practical measures to get existing stocks of weapons down; then I think we are far more likely to be able to show some achievement to the world, which it so anxiously needs.

David Rose (ITN)

May I ask the Prime Minister what the importance to Great Britain is of signing this extradition treaty and may I ask the Italian Prime Minister if it is true that they want half a dozen Italians returned in connection with the Bologna bombing?

Prime Minister

The importance to Britain of the extradition treaty is that it increases the scope of the offences for which extradition can be obtained. For example, it increases them to firearms offences [end p12] and also in particular to drugs offences. These were not there in the former extradition treaty. The treaty will now have to be ratified by Parliament and then, along with this treaty, as you know, Douglas Hurdthe Home Secretary is thinking of bringing in a White Paper, followed by another Bill, to change the procedure in our country which it is necessary to go through before extradition is granted, because at the moment our procedure prevents extradition, although we believe that on some grounds that extradition, if the procedure were changed, would be justified.

Mr. Craxi

I cannot be very precise, but I certainly know that extradition requests will be renewed on the basis of the new agreement.


I would like to ask Mrs. Thatcher if she thinks that after the break of talks between the PLO and Jordan, peace is still possible in the Middle East and whether Britain, during their forthcoming Presidency of the EEC, would work for an international peace conference on the Middle East.

Prime Minister

We continue to work for peace in the Middle East. The recent hiatus, I think, is deeply worrying. We shall continue trying and I am sure King Hussein will try to do the same thing: to get a team of Palestinians who could negotiate with him against the background of international support, but I do not at the moment see the way ahead so we shall have to work together to try to find one. [end p13]

Mr. Craxi

I think that when a given hypothesis is eliminated it is not easy to find again immediately an initiative, an alternative initiative situation we find ourselves now. It has failed because of different responsibilities and reasons, but it is the initiative that had started on the basis of agreement between King Hussein and the PLO that has failed and therefore agreement that did not find sufficient consensus and this initiative has fallen and therefore now we have to try to reconstruct, and it is not easy because the scenario has become fragmented, more confused, and more dangerous, so it is not easy at all.


I have a question for both Prime Ministers. How can you make profit from the favourable situation stemming from the drop of the oil price? How can you make profit of this and face the serious problem in Europe, unemployment?

Mr. Craxi

New resources come into play and the problem is to see where these resources are going, in which direction. We have in our country already raised this question and this will be of course examined in further depth. We have entered in Italy in a new phase because on the one hand important margins have been created in the productive system. There is a new space for benefits in the productive system. On the other hand, process of modernisation has already taken place and restructuring of our industrial productive apparatus that have absorbed a large part of investment [end p14] … of the large investment of the outstanding investments that have been made in the last few years, so the problem before us today is how to use, make use of, resources that have been created, that are going to accumulate, so as to enlarge the productive basis, so as to be able to adopt new initiatives, to implement structures that exist, by increasing production, and therefore creating new jobs. This is the problem facing all those who have decisional responsibilities, so that the economy, industry and the social system of our country would all function harmoniously. Perhaps we face this in a different way but we all face the same issue, that is in industrialised European countries that at the same time face unemployment. These are the terms before us in Italy.

Prime Minister

If I understood the question aright, I would answer it in this way. A drop in the price of oil obviously releases resources to the extent that you do not pay as much for oil as you did, and that money can be spent on other goods and services. Therefore, other goods and services will create more jobs, more jobs both at home and more jobs in export. The countries which are most competitive in their goods and services obviously will be most likely to secure that release in resources and they will get the jobs. Really, it is like a tax cut and acts like a tax cut, but it is one which unfortunately government cannot take credit for. [end p15]


Yesterday, some British officials said they looked at this meeting as a possible occasion to talk about Libya and possibly by the British part to put some pressure or to convince Italy to put some pressure on Libya to behave better. Could you brief us if there was anything said about how to handle the Libyan problem or any kind of agreement on how both countries want to handle the Libyan problem regarding terrorism?

Mr. Craxi

Do you think that up to now we have told the Libyans not to behave? That we have told them to misbehave? We have insisted on the fact that … we have insisted so that Libya would behave in a way not to look as though they are co-existing with terrorist groups and especially so with terrorist organisations that have perpetuated attacks in our country and in other European countries. We want to create a situation of less tension in the Mediterranean and we are endeavouring so that in the Mediterranean system of relations between the states and countries the neighbouring countries can be set up. That is a system of normal peaceful relations open to collaboration, but unfortunately as everybody knows, this is not so. This is the aim before us and this is therefore in the light of this that we act towards all countries including Libya that should have an interest in being in a non-conflictual situation, in a situation that raises no suspicions, no accusations, that is to be in a system of normal relations with the neighbouring countries, with those countries that still have say with our country good normal trade relations. So this is our position. [end p16]

Prime Minister

Can I just briefly tell you what our position is with regard to Libya.

Since the shooting from the Libyan Embassy on London streets nearly two years ago, we have not had diplomatic relations with Libya and we are very grateful to Italy for representing the interests of our citizens in Libya through her embassy. We have no diplomatic relations. Moreover, we have severe limitations on immigration to the United Kingdom of people from Libya, very severe limitations indeed. Thirdly, we do not export defence equipment to Libya and fourthly, we have strict limits on export credit guarantee for goods exported there. I think that is probably one of the strictest set of measures that there are in existence. We do not in fact believe that economic sanctions over and above those which I have indicated would be more effective than the ones that I have told you about.