Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 May 23 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for CBS

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Forrest Sawyer, CBS
Editorial comments: 1100-1215 set aside for four US television interviews.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2228
Themes: Conservatism, Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Leadership, Terrorism

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Prime Minister, good morning!

Prime Minister

Good morning!

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

You have made it very clear that you believe that Mr. Reagan acted properly in conducting the raid against Libya in retribution for terrorist acts. However, you have also said that in the future you are going to have to take each case on its merits. Now there are some in Britain particularly who are saying that that may be a message to Mr. Reagan that in the future it will be tougher to persuade Britain to permit those bases to be used. Is that so?

Prime Minister

But that case was taken on its merits and the decision was not taken easily or quickly. The President had been asking for more peaceful measures against Libya for a very long time. He did not come to that decision quickly and that is right. Democracies are slow to use force. He was slow to use force, and it was when he did not get a response that he turned to that, [end p1] and it was in that context that I gave our consent to use the American bases here. But now, since then, there have been more activities on the part of European countries against Libya.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Indeed, there have also been more activities on the part of terrorists against British citizens and against other citizens and you in the past have said: “I am not sure whether military action is the most effective route because it could be counter-productive.” There are those who say this one was.

Prime Minister

No, I do not believe that was counter-productive, very far from it. I think that if a democracy says: “I will never use force against someone who is using unwarrantable force to try to attack us!” then you are telling him that he can go on and you will not use force, and so he has an advantage and in the end terrorism mounts and more and more of your people are killed or wounded or maimed, and so there comes a time when you have to use force. But you see, having used force, he knows that it may be used again and that is a very great deterrent indeed. We never had that deterrent before. But also, other countries are taking other measures and that is another deterrent. So the situation, I think, has changed. [end p2]

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Here is the British population saying to the Prime Minister of Great Britain: “Prime Minister, three-quarters of us are against what you have done. British citizens have been killed because of what has been done and NATO forces have been used unilaterally …   .”

Prime Minister

I am sorry, I do not believe that is the case. You said British citizens have been killed. You are referring to the hostages?

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Yes, Ma'am!

Prime Minister

The terrorist act also was to take the hostages. Yes, tragically, they were killed afterwards and that was terrible, but what I am saying is that unless the West deals firmly with terrorism and does not foreswear the use of force, the numbers of people killed through mounting terrorist activity would be infinitely worse and infinitely greater, and sometimes you know terrorists play on the goodwill, the good nature, and the fears of democracy and their slowness to use force, and sometimes they count on it, and the moment they can count on it, they win and more of our people would be lost.

I believe that the action the President took will in the end reduce the amount of terrorism, because it is a warning that none of them have had before, none of them. [end p3]

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Here again, your critics. “Mr. Reagan used a shotgun to kill a very small animal!”

Prime Minister

What very small animal? Terrorism is not a small animal. Terrorism is a big one.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

The point is this. They say: “The British bulldog” —and you have heard this— “has become Reagan's poodle. Mrs. Thatcher is too close to the United States. She considers their concerns more than she should consider our own!”

Prime Minister

Well if they are saying that, they are being absolutely ridiculous aren't they, so let us not waste time on it!

The future of freedom and justice in the world and democracy depends upon the United States and Europe holding fast together, on defending it the world over. That is far more important than some of this trivia that you have just put to me.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

There is a concern about American tourists. Here, Great Britain has come to America's aid—the only one who did—and American tourists are just not coming to Great Britain. They are not returning the favour. [end p4]

Prime Minister

Well, I hope they will change their minds. As you know, life goes on just as normal in Great Britain. There are no more dangers now than there were then and no-one is taking special precautions. Of course, the airlines are and the airports. They are, the world over, and I hope most of it is unobtrusive, but life goes on. There are no differences in family life, no differences in the way children go out to play, none at all. 55 million people are just living their usual lives here.

Yes, American tourists not coming has hit our economy and badly, because 25%; of our tourists come from the United States. There is no more chance of being struck by terrorism than there is the chance of being struck by lightning. So please come! Please change your mind! Not only does it help our standard of living and our economy, but we miss you, we like seeing you, we love your friendliness, we love your warmth, we love your generosity, and we are missing it on our streets.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Your emissary, Mr. Whitelaw, is on his way to Moscow with a message from you to Mr. Gorbachev. Included in that message is, I expect, a strongly-worded statement about chemical weapons. You have already indicated that you will not step away from the idea that chemical weapons may again be based in Britain. You have said: “We will have to consider it!”

When, and what basis, would you consider it? [end p5]

Prime Minister

If you receive a request, you have to consider it in the light of all the circumstances of the time, and you cannot say in future what your answer would be. Above all, you never tell your potential enemy what your answer is likely to be. Who does that help? It does not help the defence of your own people. It only helps a potential aggressor.

You know the trouble with chemical weapons. No-one wants them in the west. We do not want them made, we do not want them stockpiled. We gave ours up. Did the Soviet Union? No. She went on stockpiling them. She is going on making them, doing research on them. Get the latest numbers. Let us turn our criticism on the Soviet Union and say: “Look! There would be no chemical weapons in the world, in effect, if you agreed to do with yours what we have done with ours, but if you will not” —that is a factor we must take into account— “because if you will not, and if we were to have no chemical weapons, the only response to a chemical attack by you, which could be hideous, would be a nuclear response.” Now, I do not think most people would want that. I think most people, when it is put that way, will say: “No, we would rather have chemical weapons to deter chemical weapons!” but we do not want that if we can persuade them to come down and abolish theirs, as we in Britain have abolished ours and the United States would like to abolish hers.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

So Prime Minister, are you saying to the Soviet Union, unless you come to the table and unless you negotiate more [end p6] strongly than you have before, the possibility of chemical weapons on this island is greater?

Prime Minister

No. You are always trying to put words in the mouths of politicians. You will not succeed!

What I am saying is this. Our first objective is to persuade the Soviet Union not to make chemical weapons, not to stockpile them and to have inspection which is verifiable, so that we know she is doing what she says she will do. You have got to have verification of any agreement.

If that fails, then I believe that there has to be a chemical deterrent. The only chemical deterrent there is at the moment is some very old chemical deterrent on the part of the United States and if the United States were then to say: “Under certain circumstances, would you agree to deploying them in Europe or in Britain?” I have to consider all of the circumstances of the time and I do it. Why? Because I believe that considering it is in the best interests of British people. I do not know what the answer would be, but I do believe if I said to the British people. “If there is not a chemical deterrent to chemical weapons, and the only response would be nuclear!” most of them would say: “Well, for Heaven's sake, don't raise the nuclear threshold, keep it down!”

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Prime Minister, you are on your way in an historic visit, to the State of Israel, and you have made very clear that you [end p7] believe that there must be discussions between Mr. Hussein [sic] of Jordan, the PLO, and that Israel must play its own role and the discussions must take place between them. But could there be a place for a greater role in Great Britain in the negotiations for peace?

Prime Minister

It is in the interests, I think, of the whole world, that the fundamental Middle-Eastern problem, Arab-Israel problem, is settled. Above all, it is in the interests of the people of that area. I mean, just think, they are people who lived closely together for years. If they could live in harmony and security—they must have security; each of them have the feeling of security within their own borders, what you demand for yourself you must give to others; each of them must have the feeling that if you have got self-determination for Israel, for Britain, for the United States, you cannot deny what you demand for yourself to other people. They too are humans; they too come from that same area. The only question is how to bring this about. Peace with security for Israel. Self-determination and the similar human rights which Israel is the first to stand up for her citizens the world over. You cannot say: “Our citizens are different from others; human rights should only apply to them!” Human rights, self-determination, have to apply to others. The only question is how to bring it about without more trouble, without more conflict. The speed at which you can bring it about. It must be between King Hussein and the Palestinians on the one hand and Israel on another. We cannot [end p8] work out their destiny. We can help to try to bring them together. We can help with trying to see who would be best to be brought together. We can help with getting an international framework for such a conference, so that they both have confidence that the world is behind them in trying to find a solution, and we must always go on trying, because the moderate people in Israel, the moderate Arabs, those are the ones you have got to back. They are the decent ones who know we must have peace but with security for all.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Prime Minister, you have always stood, in the face of everything, as a leader of conviction. You have cut your path through those political waters and you have followed that route without yielding. You now stand third in the most recent poll and there are those who say: “This prime minister should come to a recognition that she must listen more carefully to what the electorate has to say and must compromise, must change more!” Would you listen to those people in your own party?

Prime Minister

They were saying the same thing in 1981, but if you are a conviction politician you believe in certain things. I do those things because I believe they are right and my job is to try to get over what I believe is right. People can choose then whether they follow that or follow others. I think we have got a much more sophisticated problem now. I think people know that what we [line missing] [end p9] Britain and the respect for Britain the world over. After all, we have the highest standard of living; we have got excellent productivity; profits have returned; high standard of investment; we have put more into the rule of law. We are a reliable ally, and industry and those people in work are doing very well. Because we had such overmanning and restrictive practices before, they are now out of industry and on to the unemployment register and we want the enterprise culture that you have in the United States to define more jobs for them. But there is nothing wrong with what one is doing, but the tendency is that people are taking for granted what we have done and thinking that it could still go on under a government of a totally different political complexion. It would not! So much would be lost, and that is the message that we have to try to get over to them, and I believe we shall.

If they don't want a strong leader, they do not want me, there are plenty in the other parties to choose from if they want a weak one! But if they still want a strong one who believes in what she does and does it because she believes it is right for Britain and even wider than, right for the future of freedom and justice in the world, then I think they might think I still have a role to play.

Forrest Sawyer, CBS

Prime Minister, thank you very much.

Prime Minister

Thank you.