Thatcher: A Friend in Need
One ally had ‘not the slightest doubt’Newsweek introductory material removed.
[Question summary: STRIKES AGAINST LIBYA AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW?]
My views have not changed. The U.S. action was not “retaliation” and was not—I believe—illegal. The action ordered by President Reagan in Libya with my support was a deliberately limited action in the light of overwhelming evidence of Libyan sponsorship of numerous previous acts of terrorism. But even more important, we had clear evidence of Libyan plans for future terrorist outrages. The U.S. action was directed against targets specifically associated with terrorism and was fully consistent with the right of the United States to defend itself under the inherent right of self-defense recognized in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
[Question summary: WHAT ASSURANCES FROM U.S. THAT ATTACKS LIMITED TO TERRORIST TARGETS?]
In our exchanges with the U.S. administration before the attack, we said we would support action against targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities. We also made clear the importance of minimizing collateral damage. The key point was that any action should clearly be within Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes the inherent right of self-defense against threatened attacks. The president made it clear that the use of F-111 aircraft from the bases in Britain was essential because by virtue of their special characteristics they would provide the safest means of limiting the attack to the targets with the least possible risk both of civilian casualties in Libya and of casualties amongst U.S. service personnel.
[Question summary: SECOND THOUGHTS FOLLOWING CIVILIAN CASUALTIES?]
The civilian casualties in Tripoli are a matter of great sorrow to me. We have no quarrel with the people of Libya. But I do not have the slightest doubt that the action ordered by President Reagan was right and restrained in the circumstances of Libyan past and planned acts of terrorism. The casualties in Tripoli were of course far fewer than the innocent victims who have been murdered by Libyan-backed terrorists over the years.
[Question summary: COULD U.S. ATTACK HAVE BEEN AVOIDED IF EEC HAD TAKEN STRONGER MEASURES AGAINST LIBYA?]
The whole international community has a shared interest in combating terrorism. I recognize that there are a range of views about how best to do that. I would certainly like to see stronger measures agreed on by the European Community against Libya. Two years ago we broke off diplomatic relations with Libya, closed the People's Bureau and imposed severe restrictions on the entry of Libyans into this country in response to the murder of woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher, shot by a Libyan gun. [Foreign Secretary] Sir Geoffrey Howe has urged our European partners to take similar measures and we hope to achieve more progress soon.
[Question summary: BETTER TO HAVE USED ECONOMIC SANCTIONS BEFORE FORCE?]
I have to say that I honestly do not believe that economic sanctions work. They have been tried in the past and found wanting. They did not work against Rhodesia, they would not work against South Africa, and there is no reason to suppose that they would work against Libya.
[Question summary: DAMAGE TO BRITISH RELATIONS WITH EUROPE?]
Obviously I wish that more of our European partners could have spoken up in support of President Reagan's action. But I do not think that our relations with them have suffered. The use in this action of U.S. aircraft based in Britain was a bilateral matter for ourselves and the American administration. But all of us in Europe realize that we share a wider interest in working together to defeat terrorism, from which we have all suffered.
[Question summary: ALARMED AT MOSCOW'S CANCELLATION OF SHULTZ-SHEVARDNADZE MEETING? THREAT TO NEXT SUMMIT?]
I am not alarmed. Naturally it's disappointing that the meeting is off only just after it was on. But if the Russians are seriously interested in the dialogue with the United States—and they have reason to be—we shall not have to wait long for them. This postponement looks like a ritual gesture. I see no reason why the next summit meeting should not go ahead.
[Question summary: DOMESTIC POLITICAL DAMAGE?]
Yes, there has been some opposition in this country to my decision to support President Reagan. Nobody pretends that such decisions are easy or that there is not a price to be paid in the war against terrorism. But a stand has to be made. I believe that the British people, who have for so long supported our determination to confront terrorism in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, understand that perfectly well.
[Question summary: DANGER OF TERRORIST RETALIATION BY LIBYA AGAINST BRITAIN?]
Sadly, Britain was already in the front line against terrorism. Now we have seen the attack on the British ambassador's residence in Beirut and the brutal murder of at least two British hostages in Lebanon. These were totally unjustified outrages. We cannot allow ourselves to be deflected in the struggle against terrorism by fear of reprisals; otherwise we would be utterly powerless before the terrorist. What we can do and have done is to take every possible measure to enhance the security of our people at home and abroad. We shall continue to be on our guard.