Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Camp David talks (nuclear weapons and arms control)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: British Embassy Rotunda, Washington
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1515-1600. MT began the press conference by reading a statement on the outcome of her talks with President Reagan, which is not listed separately.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4675
Themes: Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands), Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Health policy, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you know, the main point of my visit here was to have talks with the Ronald ReaganPresident, especially on arms control matters.

I have also seen last evening Mr. George Shultz and Mr. Cap Weinberger, and this morning I had breakfast with Vice-President Bush; and I have also seen Mr. Poindexter, who was with us at Camp David, as was Mr. Shultz and Mr. Regan.

I think it would be better if I dealt with the main subject. I have prepared a small statement, which will be handed to you afterwards. Shall I perhaps read it and then you can cross-examine me on it.

‘The Ronald ReaganPresident and I discussed the way forward on arms control after Reykjavik. We agreed that priority should be given to an INF agreement with restraints on shorter-range systems; a 50%; cut over five years in United States and Soviet strategic offensive weapons; and a ban on chemical weapons. In all three cases, effective verification would be an essential element.

We also agreed on the need to press ahead with the SDI research programme, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty. We confirmed that NATO's strategy of forward defence and flexible response would continue to require effective nuclear deterrents based upon a mix of systems. At the [end p1] same time, reductions in nuclear weapons would increase the importance of eliminating conventional disparities.

Nuclear weapons cannot be dealt with in isolation, given the need for stable overall balance at all times.

We were also in agreement that these matters should continue to be the subject of close consultation within the alliance.

The Ronald ReaganPresident reaffirmed the United States intention to proceed with its strategic modernisation programme, including Trident. He also confirmed his full support for the arrangements made to modernise Britain's independent nuclear deterrent with Trident.’

That is the end of that statement.

I thanked the Ronald ReaganPresident for what the United States had done on Syria, and we discussed the Middle East and had a brief discussion on South Africa and the President reaffirmed to me the views which he had taken in the statement which he gave on Iran.

May I make it quite clear that the statement on arms control which I read out is an agreed statement between the President and myself. [end p2]

Question (Intelligence Review)

Did you clarify your position with regard to the so-called zero option?

Prime Minister

The zero option to me means the INF zero-zero Europe option with 100 missiles in the Far East on the Soviet side and 100 in the United States also. I tried to make it clear in the statement that we support that option, subject always to two things: effective verification and subject also to proper balance deals being included with the short-range missiles, and when the short-range missiles are stationed in the satellite countries, Britain of course is within their range.

Question (Irish Times, Dublin)

Prime Minister, I wonder since today is the first anniversary of the Anglo-Irish …   . if this subject came up at Camp David and secondly, what are your own thoughts on the Agreement one year later?

Prime Minister

No, the subject was not discussed at Camp David. My thoughts on the Agreement are the same as they were when I made the Agreement. We thought it was necessary to come to that Anglo-Irish Agreement; we felt that it would help to reconcile the two communities to live together the better in Northern Ireland; that it would also help to enhance cross-border security, which is in the interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. [end p3]

Question (CBS)

You mentioned that you and the President discussed his statement on Iran. Can you give us your view of US policy on Iran, specifically the overtures …   . delivery of arms to Iran. Does that strike you as a wise policy?

Prime Minister

I am not really going to add to what the Ronald ReaganPresident said in his own statement to the great American people on Iran. He made his views absolutely clear.

We too have diplomatic contacts with Iran. We recognise the importance of Iran as a country. We too would like to see the end of the Iranian-Iraq war; we too are neutral in that war, and we pursue a policy of not delivering lethal weapons to either side. So that is the view we take.

John Connell (Sunday Times)

Prime Minister, did you raise the question of the SALT 2 treaty and the possibility of America breaching the limits of that treaty?

Prime Minister

No, not on this occasion. I really was on the wider question this time and, as you can see, there is a pretty extensive statement on the wider arms control issues. We did not discuss SALT 2 on this occasion. We have previously. [end p4]

Question (ABC News)

Do you believe that the President's actions have in any way weakened the United States ability to pursue a policy of not dealing with terrorists?

Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to what the Ronald ReaganPresident said in his very clear statement on Iran—nothing to add at all.

I believe implicitly in the President's total integrity on that subject.

Question (Johannesburg Star)

Prime Minister, could you give us a sense of how your discussion went on South Africa? Did you discuss the question of economic sanctions, for instance?

Prime Minister

The Ronald ReaganPresident and I share the same views on economic sanctions: that they would not help to achieve our ultimate aim, which is the ending of apartheid in South Africa and therefore, a system of government which enables all South Africans to take part, including very obviously the black South Africans.

It is a question, I am afraid, where one poses the problems and states one's views very clearly. It is not always easy for outside people to find a way through, and I think we take very much the view that the formula put by the Eminent Persons—namely, that there should be a negotiation and there should be undertakings really on both sides to the negotiation. On the side of the Government of South Africa, the release of Nelson Mandela and the [end p5] unbanning of the ANC; and on the side of those who have indulged in violence, an agreement to suspend violence, that being the condition for the start of negotiations.

We still think that that formula is possibly the best way forward but, of course, the impetus has to come from within South Africa.

Michael White (The Guardian)

Did you cover, Prime Minister, the circumstances in which a conventional or chemical force reduction would enable the British Trident purchase to become negotiable in arms control terms, and does your communique imply that you have acceded to the Administration's so-called ‘broad’ interpretation of the ABM Treaty?

Prime Minister

Look! I will give you a copy of this. I think it is really very clear, if you look, from what we have said. Right now one has to remember that there have been no arms reductions at all. There have been suggestions for negotiations—very extensive suggestions for negotiations. Effective verification will be absolutely fundamental to those. Now, until those negotiations start to produce a different situation from that we have now, then we carry on as now. We are determined to have the security of the West, determined on the strength of the West, because that, we believe, is the best way to pursue further negotiations.

So we have got a position where there have been certain proposals. There are no changes, and we shall carry on as we have in the past with the same policy under NATO, as I have made quite clear. [end p6]

We believe that the INF Agreement, I think, would possibly be the first one to go ahead with, believing that that could be decoupled from SDI. Whether it will be is a matter for the Soviet Union.

We have also been negotiating under chemical weapons, but as far as Britain is concerned, Trident will be our independent nuclear deterrent, following Polaris. It is vital that we continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent and, as you have heard from the statement—let me just read the relevant paragraph out again—

‘The President reaffirmed the United States intention to proceed with its strategic nuclear modernisation programme, including Trident. He also confirmed his full support for arrangements made to modernise Britain's independent nuclear deterrent with Trident.’

Question (Spanish News Agency)

I want to make two questions. First of all, if you talked with Mr. Reagan about the Falkland issue and the second question is that President Alfonsin said recently that he is willing to meet with you any time, anywhere, if you are willing or you agree to discuss the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

Prime Minister

I explained to the Ronald ReaganPresident the view we had taken on the question of fisheries round the Falklands. I told him that in April 1985 we approached the Food and Agriculture Organisation to try to get a multi-lateral agreement on fisheries. We have been working through the Food and Agriculture Organisation, for a multi-lateral agreement for over 18 months. Argentine was not cooperative. [end p7]

Indeed, towards the end of that time, she made her own bilateral arrangements with other countries over fisheries that were within 200 miles of the Falklands and therefore technically were within our area, although we only have the Falkland Islands protection zone to 150 miles.

Also, as you will know, Argentina shot a Taiwanese boat and killed some people in a fishing boat there. We were appalled at that incident.

It was only following these matters that we, being unable to get anywhere with our efforts to have a multilateral agreement, decided that we too must reassert our position and we have reasserted it over the conservation of fisheries within 150 miles of the Falklands.

I am not prepared to discuss the sovereignty of the Falklands at all. The view we have taken is that the sovereignty is British; that the people of the Falkland Islands, their wishes are paramount in this matter.

Julia Langdon (Daily Mirror)

Mrs. Thatcher, as a result of your visit, returning to the West topic, has anything actually changed? Was your visit here actually necessary?

Prime Minister

I think it was necessary and I am glad Julia Langdonyou came along too thinking it was necessary. Nice to have you with us. Did you come with us on the plane or did you get here separately? On the plane. We will take you back!

Yes, it was necessary because, as you know, some people were [end p8] attempting to cast doubt on the future of the Trident programme. I felt myself that there would be no doubt about the future of the Trident programme. There is no doubt about the future of the Trident programme, but I wanted to discuss with the Ronald ReaganPresident the talks in Reykjavik and I think we have a very very good result.

Let me go through it again:

We support the President absolutely on continuing with SDI research. I believe that that research has to be taken up to feasibility. Research is not complete until the system on which you are researching is feasible.

Secondly, we support the INF Agreement, subject to effective verification. Verification is not going to be easy, you know. The Soviet Union is such a large place. And also, that agreement would have to include not only the intermediate weapons, but short-range nuclear weapons, because those are stationed in such positions that they can fall upon England and Wales.

Thirdly, that we supported the position that he had taken and indeed had tabled on the 50%; cut over five years in United States and Soviet strategic offensive weapons.

Fourthly, a ban on chemical weapons.

Now, if we get all that, it will be the greatest step forward in our armament reductions that has occurred, I should think, ever. It is a massive programme.

We also confirmed the other things: NATO strategy, flexible response and so on, and that the matter should continue to be the subject of close consultation. It really was a very valuable talk and many of the things which people cast doubt on are made absolutely clear in this communique, particularly with regard not only to our own Trident programme but to the United States [end p9] determination to continue to modernise its own strategic nuclear weapon system.

Question (Chicago Tribune)

Prime Minister, both in your official statement and subsequently, you have been silent on another aspect of the President's proposal in Geneva, which was the elimination of all ballistic missiles. Do we take this silence to mean that you do not approve of that element of his arms control proposals?

Prime Minister

I think I answered that question in a previous reply. If we get as far as this indicates, it will be the biggest advance for years. Right now, there have been no armaments control agreements following Reykjavik, and so the first thing one has to say is that there is at the moment no change in the arms control position.

What is in this communique will require very extensive and very long consultations. Verification itself will be difficult and, of course, nothing would be entered into unless it could be effectively verified.

In my view, this is a very very large programme and I think if that goes ahead and we got the agreements set out there, it would be an enormous success, but that of itself will take a considerable time.

But at the moment nothing has changed. There are some proposals. We have tried to set out the kind of priority, I think, with the intermediate nuclear weapons, believing that that could perhaps be detached from the Russians' attempted constraint on SDI. [end p10]

Question (Washington News Agency Bureau)

What is your evaluation of the situation in Northern Ireland? …   . second question: I hear that you have received a message from Secretary Gorbachev quite recently concerning aspects of the problem of armaments. What is your reaction to this message please?

Prime Minister

There is no change in one's evaluation of the system in Northern Ireland nor the situation in Northern Ireland.

As you know, the majority of the people there wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. They have demonstrated they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom by a poll to that effect, and their position is absolutely entrenched: that there will not be a change in the status of Northern Ireland unless the people of Northern Ireland wished it and the Parliament at Westminster agreed. So there is no change in that at all.

Mr. Gorbachev sent a message by Ambassador Zamyatin which reached me the day before I came here, setting out his views on the Reykjavik agreement. I was very grateful to receive it. As you know, Mr. Gorbachev has asked me some time to go to Moscow—an invitation which I hope one day to take up.

Question (Paper Argentina)

Did President Reagan or Secretary Shultz consult you on any new proposals for negotiating with Argentina, considering that my country has …   . multilateral proposal for negotiating the …   . [end p11]

Prime Minister

The Argentine did not pursue our wish to negotiate multilaterally on fish through the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Therefore, we have taken the steps we have taken temporarily.

We hope there will be a multilateral arrangement. It is difficult to find one, but we will continue to look for one, because it is our wish to have one, and we are sad that the Argentine refused to negotiate multilaterally. We will try to look for one. There are various other possibilities, but we are not able to say quite what should be the way ahead at the moment.

Question (Same Man)

Excuse me, Prime Minister, my question was if there was any new proposal presented to you, you were consulted on it.

Prime Minister

There are various other ideas under discussion, but none has been worked out or worked through yet.


Does the President agree with your views on Syria's role in international terrorism and were punitive measures against Syria discussed between you?

Prime Minister

No. As you know, the United States has taken and announced its very effective measures against Syria. I think they were headline news in our newspapers this morning. [end p12]

I expressed our gratitude to the Ronald ReaganPresident for his swift and decisive action and we are very grateful to have his support on this following the revelations in the Hindawi case in London.


Do you have any reason to believe that the Soviet Union is ready to decouple anything from arms control on SDI like INF and so on?

Prime Minister

Do I have any reason? No. If politics only had reasons, it would be rather less interesting than it is.

You asked if I have any reason. One has a little bit of hope. That is not always the same as reason.

You will recall that after the first Geneva talks between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, there was a statement about INF and it seemed to be indicated that, almost alone among the statements on nuclear weapons, INF had not quite the same linkage to SDI as the other matters.

A few months later, we queried whether that was the case, but at least there was a certain amount of doubt about it and therein, I think, lies the hope that that one might be the easiest one to detach from SDI.

We would also believe that we think that the Soviet Union would like to have an agreement on intermediate nuclear forces.

You asked for a reason. I have just given you a hint of a reason and a hint of hope, but you know, in this you have got to go on trying. I always thought that those people who negotiated in our arms control sessions at Geneva and at Vienna where the [end p13] negotiations on conventional forces have been going on for about twelve or thirteen years, must be the world's most patient, diplomatic and hopeful people that ever exist, because even when they do not get anywhere they still come up with newer proposals—and we just have to go on trying, and we shall.


On South Africa …   . do you have any plans to meet with President Botha or any President in that region and are you concerned about the whole stability of southern Africa at this moment?

Prime Minister

I have no plans to meet with President Botha in South Africa or elsewhere.

Of course, one is concerned, particularly in view of the new situation following upon the death of President Machel of Mozambique, with whom we had fairly close contacts, arising really from the time when he was very helpful indeed when we were doing the negotiations on Rhodesia, which eventually became Zimbabwe. He played a very practical, constructive and helpful role in that and ever since then we had quite close contacts, and when he was in need of help with food because the situation in Mozambique was very difficult, we tried to give help. He needed technical help and we tried also to give that.

But there is of course a new situation there and any changes, of course, in the southern African region always introduce a new unknown there. But in answer to your first question, I have no plans to meet with President Botha. [end p14]


Prime Minister, you said earlier that some people had cast doubt on the future of the Trident missile system.

I think it would be correct to say that some people, particularly in West Germany, among the political leaders, cast doubt on the nature of the INF agreement which was tentatively put together in Reykjavik.

Was there a sort of tacit point … is there a deal between you and the President that you give support to the INF agreement in return for a restatement by him on Trident?

Prime Minister

No. I do not think you can have kept up with the statements that I have already made on this subject.

As you know, twice I have indicated in the House of Commons, before I came to Washington, that we would support the INF Agreement—twice, both at Question Time.

We also supported the previous arrangements tabled by President Reagan at Geneva, which were for a global settlement on the INF question—reached I think then over three years.

It is not very different from the one that is before us now, and we were in support of that one.

What we were very wary of, and quite rightly so, was any settlement which merely moved back the SS20s and would have enabled them to be moved forward again. Obviously, that would not have been an effective settlement and could not possibly have been entered into, but I do not believe that that is the settlement which is before us, which is the SS20s all out of Europe and the Cruise [end p15] and Pershings out, and then there are to be a hundred intermediate ones in the Far East on the part of the Soviet Union and a hundred in the United States, possibly based in Alaska. So that is a global settlement. But I have already announced our agreement with that before coming here.

Question (Australia)

…   . earlier … policy of not delivering weapons to either side in the Iran-Iraq war. Does that mean that although you believe implicitly in the President's total integrity in this matter, you disagree with what he did?

Prime Minister

No. We do not deliver lethal weapons, either to Iran or Iraq, because we try to be neutral when we have combatants during war.

We had, as you know, some problems with some contracts which stem from the time when the Reza Shah PahlaviShah was there. They were particularly for two ships, but they were not warships, they were auxiliaries, and they had no guns on them. Eventually, those were delivered, and there have been other very small items, but none of them lethal weapons, and that is the policy which we pursue.


Could you explain what you mean by ‘researching the SDI to the point of feasibility’? Does this include testing in space outside the laboratory? Is that compatible with continued adherence to the ABM Treaty? [end p16]

Prime Minister

I will give my interpretation of research and development.

I think you are still researching when you are going right up to feasibility, because if you do not know whether a system can work, you still research to find out, and that is my own interpretation of research, which I have made very clear also to the Soviet Union, and I do not think you can have any less. They are trying to have a much much more restricted level.

This statement says ‘research as permitted by the ABM Treaty’. You then go into various interpretations of the ABM Treaty, which I myself am not going to get into.

You know the ABM Treaty not only had articles, but at the end it also had signed at the same time, under official understandings which are adhered to the Treaty, and among those understandings is an arrangement that where you are dealing with new anti-ballistic missile systems and problems arise as to the interpretation, that there should be a particular committee in which those problems should be resolved, and that you will find at the end of the Treaty, so there is a mechanism for resolving the problems.


…   . Syria …   . would you comment on M. Chirac 's …   .

Prime Minister

No, I should not dream of commenting on M. Chirac … on a colleague.


(very faint, but re criticism) [end p17]

Prime Minister

Well, no-one should criticise our decision about fishing. No-one should criticise it. We tried to negotiate multilaterally. It was the Argentine that refused to negotiate multilaterally. We started those negotiations in April 1985. We are now in November 1986.

Have I got the wrong question? I thought I heard Argentine, negotiations, fisheries, multilateral.


… about the US support given to the solution at the OAS.

Prime Minister

I have no change to make on our position with regard to Argentina. We do not discuss sovereignty of the Falklands—will not discuss sovereignty. We do not recognise a dispute over sovereignty.

We would like otherwise to normalise relations with the Argentine. We in fact started to impact goods from the Argentine long before the Argentine opened up any of her markets again to us and we still continue to import goods from the Argentine.

We would like more extensive commercial relations. The fact we are not able to get them is not due to us. We have tried to do everything we can. We will not discuss sovereignty.


The US vote supporting the …   . [end p18]

Prime Minister

Are you asking me to carry on criticising the United States? I have made our own position on the Argentine very clear.


Mrs. Thatcher, could you talk a little more about your message from Soviet leader Gorbachev? Did you discuss it with President Reagan …   .

Prime Minister

I told President Reagan that I had had a message from Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Gorbachev had set out his view of the Reykjavik Treaty.


Would any of that view differ from the impression the President already had?

Prime Minister

I do not think so.


Is that one reason that you are optimistic that SDI might be split off …

Prime Minister

No. I found nothing in that particular statement which would encourage me in the belief that the INF might be coupled from SDI, but I believe nevertheless that is the most hopeful way forward. Otherwise, you just stop. [end p19]

I do not think anyone would wish one to stop after Reykjavik. There were after all there discussions about arms reductions as distinct from arms control and I am sure you would not wish one just to stop trying, so various things have been tabled at Geneva.

As you know, the Geneva negotiations ended, I think on November 12—it was some time last week—and they re-convene again in January, so the teams from both sides will be negotiating. They will continue and undoubtedly the probing of whether SDI can be decoupled from INF will continue there, but you can only negotiate in detail at Geneva, and I am sure you would not wish us to stop trying—would not wish the United States to stop trying. I would not. The United States is doing everything it can to try to reach …   .


… (inaudible) … by what you heard …   .

Prime Minister

I have nothing fresh to say about Secretary Gorbachev's views, nothing that would come as fresh to you at all.


…   . break ranks on the AIDS policy …   . can you articulate the British …   .

Prime Minister

I am not aware that we are breaking ranks. We are spending a good deal of money trying to see that people know all about it and how to avoid it, because as you know, there is no cure, so the [end p20] best policy is one of doing everything you can to prevent it.

Question (Same Man)

… screening …

Prime Minister

I think you should not just toss out these things before you attempt to work out their practicality.