Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with French President (Francois Mitterrand)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Elysee Palace, Paris
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: The exact time of the Press Conference has not been traced. MT left Heathrow for Paris at 0837 and returned to Northolt at 2125.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5092
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), European Union (general), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Health policy, Terrorism

President Mitterrand

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have just come to the end of the Plenary Session in this Anglo-French meeting. Many subjects have been looked at and papers prepared. As is customery in this type of meeting, they have been prepared by the Ministers concerned and mainly in this particular case the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Ministers for Defence and Ministers for Industry and Trade and Ministers for Agriculture.

Each specific dialogue leads to a certain number of conclusions. I think before starting the questions and answers, we can say that in a real sense the British and French approaches are very similar and, indeed, in some areas absolutely identical.

Of course, this mainly relates to defence, from the point of view of defence specifically and also from the point of view of our external relations which, of course, fit in with each other. What strategy should one employ and to do what and in what environment and with whom? And from that angle, I was delighted to note, as I had in a very recent trip I made to London, to what extent the British and French analyses are very close to each other. Indeed, very similar on important matters such as the future of the nuclear strategic forces and how one should deal with the intermediate nuclear forces coupled or non-coupled with short-range missiles. [end p1] Problems of control and verification and particularly, in the aftermath of Reykjavik, the fact that the conversations between the two super-powers are continuing in Geneva. It is very clear that we have now a sort of corpus of doctrine. We have a common doctrine. We have a similar approach which makes it possible for us to feel, I think, closer than ever before.

So much for the analysis, but it is also true for the goals which we are working towards.

The Ministers concerned not only talked about East-West relations. They also talked about specifically European problems, the Community, where is the Community? The internal market and the French Minister for European Affairs drew our attention to certain budgetary aspects of the Community: research projects, air transport, etc.

There was also talk of strategy in the face of terrorism. At the same time, of course, in London there will be discussions—at Mrs. Thatcher's initiative—on drugs, on certain immigration problems, problems which should be studied and if possible solved within the twelve-country Community.

We also have specifically bilateral problems. I will simply mention one—the Channel link—and that project is continuing under the best auspices.

The Ministers for Industry & Foreign Trade on the French side and Industry on the British side also pursued the study of the problems that fall within their perview; the framework programme for research and development, technological cooperation in Eureka, telecommunication in space, the nuclear field, the dispute [end p2] between the EEC and the United States and the EEC/GATT situation and what our attitude should be towards Japan and then certain bilateral aspects were looked at, agreed or not agreed, difficulties or, on the contrary, useful arrangements—for example, the offshore petroleum problem, the cellular telephone link, etc., and also the study that should be made on how to save the shipbuilding industry.

The Ministers of Agriculture discussed the problems of the day from the point of view of the long-term, in other words up to 1992, internal market, which was adopted yesterday as a matter of fact by the French National Assembly in the French Parliament by a very broad majority which knows that there is a very firm national determination in this respect.

And then there were also the immediate problems that one should never underestimate when one is responsible for such matters.

The problem of mutton. It is a problem which first of all is decisive for the fate of tens of thousands of breeders, of families, of farmers, and it is important for us in France, the people who work, who are entitled to a decent living and there are problems now because today there are possible imports at prices which pay much less and so with competition problems this means that certain things will have to be looked at again. How one should look at the green rate problem and at any rate sheep regulation.

Then there are all the discussions which are a sort of permanent fixture—intervention regimes, on the milk market, on butter, on stockpiling, which brings us back to the really substantive question: how can we deal with the problem of surpluses—surplus production? The problem really is posed in a major fashion. It is something that we cannot escape. Ideas, [end p3] schools of thought, are developing and we are very far from a conclusion of all this. What is the right approach? Is this purely a Community problem or is it a programme which emerges from GATT in fact—or both?

What could be adopted within the Community is not necessarily the same as what could be decided by a conference comprising a hundred countries, so, at any rate on the French side, there is quite a lot of concern at this, a lot of fear on the French side of the extent to which the Treaty of Rome should be complied with and agriculture is part and parcel of it.

And then there are those who say—and one can understand their reason—that it is difficult to …   . the future, if we want to develop the various … of Europe with at the same time behind us or alongside us this separist [sic] production which is bearing very heavily on our budget, not only by the guaranteed prices but also by stockpiling. So there you have a lot of things you have to do: you must safeguard the Treaty of Rome which is essential for the future of Europe but at the same time something must be done to make it possible for the finances of the Community to develop.

It really does appear that the two countries concerned do ultimately agree in saying one should not increase the VAT contribution of European countries as long as the need for this is not absolutely overriding …   . a few countries … for a few years to come.

So this is really what I have got out, what I have taken part in, what I have listened to, during the last few hours, since the moment when I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Thatcher this morning at eleven o'clock and so perhaps after my sort of rather pragmatic and linear account of matters, I tried to bring out some of the main [end p4] points, but perhaps Mrs. Thatcher would like to … conclusions for this and I would like to give her the floor and again, I would like to thank her for having come to Paris with several of her Ministers, but I think I can say not only was it very pleasant to have Mrs. Thatcher here in our midst, but at the same time it is the Franco British relationship that has really taken place in a climate which one feels that everyone wants to achieve and I think that there is a very clear move towards more harmony than we sometimes had in the past. [end p5]

Prime Minister

The François MitterrandPresident has given you a very full and accurate account of our discussions and I have just a few things to add, but first, I would like, of course, to thank President Mitterrand and M. Chirac for their kind hospitality. And next, may I say publicly how very distressed we in Britain were by the dreadful murder of M. Besse, the Chairman of Renault, whose funeral was held this morning? We extend our deepest sympathy to his family.

I would like to follow the President in making a general comment about relations between Britain and France.

The President and I and M. Chirac and I have seen a great deal of each other this year. I visited Lille in January and the President came to Canterbury in February; he also came to London for a very useful and timely meeting in October, and M. Chirac came to see me at Chequers in May; and, of course, we met at the Economic Summit in Tokyo and the European Council in The Hague.

I mention these things to underline to you what a very close and effective working relationship has developed between our two governments and which is reflected in the similarity of our views on the major issues of East-West relations, defence and European issues.

I will make just a few comments about our meeting today.

The subject foremost in our minds was that of East-West relations and arms control. I gave the President an account of my talks at Camp David. We agreed that the conclusions reached there are confirmation of the continuing importance of effective nuclear deterrents as a basis of the alliance's strategy. There are, of [end p6] course, points such as the SDI on which our two governments differ. We approach these questions in very much the same way, as one would expect from Europe's two nuclear powers.

I told the President how much I admired the speech by M. Raymond on East-West relations.

The François MitterrandPresident and I also discussed the potential involvement of our national nuclear forces in any future process of reductions in nuclear arms. Our longstanding conditions for such involvement remain unchanged.

We were also agreed that nuclear weapons cannot be dealt with in isolation and that there must be stable overall balance at all times, which means that disparities in conventional forces must also be dealt with.

I gave the President and M. Chirac a brief account of our objectives as Presidency for the European Council on 5/6 December. The President has indicated them to you.

We propose to concentrate on employment and job creation; completion of the internal market; frontier controls; immigration; drugs; Aids and terrorism.

On terrorism, we were able to note that the cooperation between our police and security forces was very good. I thanked the François MitterrandPresident in particular for the cooperation of the French services in intercepting operations designed to supply arms to Irish terrorists.

On the wider question of the response to terrorism, I stressed the importance not only of mutual support when any one of us is in difficulty, but the need also not to undercut each other. [end p7]

In this context, we both agreed on the need for a fresh impetus for efforts to achieve a Middle-East peace settlement. The François MitterrandPresident mentioned this in his own summing-up. I would emphasise there is nothing incompatible between working for this goal and stern action against governments which support terrorism.

We had a brief discussion of agricultural problems, again as the President has indicated. I stressed the importance of our agricultural ministers finding solutions to the problems in the dairy and beef sectors which are in great surplus.

The situation of the CAP is rapidly becoming critical, with production outstripping realistic demand and export opportunities and half of agricultural expenditure now going on storage and disposal of surpluses.

May I express the hope that there will be no further interruptions or hindrance to Britain's exports of lamb to France.

Finally, I was able to tell President Mitterrand and M. Chirac that their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales had accepted the French Government's invitation to visit France in 1988.

May I say that this has altogether been a most useful and enjoyable day. [end p8]

Jon Snow (ITN)

Mr. President, Prime Minister, you spoke of the need in the war against terrorism not to undercut each other.

I wonder whether in your conversations you touched upon America's contacts with Iran and whether either of you feel that those contacts have served to undercut your efforts against international terrorism?

President Mitterrand

As far as I am concerned, I would say that we just did not talk about it. It was not one of our subjects.

We looked at the problem of terrorism through our Community relationships, bilateral relationships. We did not go into general considerations about the attitude of other powers.

Prime Minister

We did not discuss that particular problem.

Jon Snow (ITN)

Could I ask you to touch upon the problem? Obviously, there is great concern on both sides of the Atlantic about the contracts with Iran. Do you thin, Mr. President, Madam Prime Minister, these contacts have served to undercut your efforts against international terrorism?

President Mitterrand

This really was not the subject of the Franco-British meeting and I think what you are talking about is the relationship between [end p9] the United States and Iran and those countries were not present at our meeting today.

Prime Minister

The Ronald ReaganPresident of the United States has given his own very full account and we must leave that matter to the United States and Iran.


Mrs. Thatcher, you have talked about launching a new initiative for peace in the Middle East with President Mitterrand. Can I know what are the major points that you have dealt with with President Mitterrand concerning the Middle East and what are the outlines of this new initiative for peace in the Middle East?

Prime Minister

I would not call it so much a new initiative as making progress. It is very difficult to have a new initiative on Middle Eastern matters, because we always come up against the same problems and therefore it is those to which we have to address our concentrated attention.

For example, obviously there has to be negotiation between King Hussein and the Palestinians and Israel. The question which always falls to be resolved is which Palestinians properly represent the Palestinian people.

As you know, we take a particular view about the PLO and we do not meet them unless or until they renounce terrorism and recognise and accept the 242 United Nations motion and 338. That also is the view, I think, taken by the United States. [end p10]

We therefore have to find some Palestinians who properly represent the Palestinian people, but who would accept those two conditions.

That was what Ambassador Murphy 's mission was about some time ago. It was not carried through to fruition and if we are going to get anything else carried forward, that is the problem to which we will have to address ourselves.

There is a subsidiary problem. It is generally agreed that there should be some international background to any negotiations and the precise nature of that international background has also to be elucidated.

So it is really trying to carry further forward some of the initiatives which somehow ran into the ground and little has been heard of them in this last year.

Question (BBC)

Prime Minister, the President this morning spoke of the growing desire of European peoples for a common defence in the sense of a European defence.

Did you discuss this and do you see ways of advancing towards it? It is desirable in your view?

Prime Minister

I think the defence is the defence of the Free World and that requires both side of the Atlantic to be involved in it and therefore we pursue our objectives as the proper and effective defence of Europe in and through NATO. We have a special position in NATO, because we are both independent nuclear powers. Our independent nuclear forces are also seconded to NATO as well as [end p11] under our own command and that gives us a special position in Europe, but I think the rest of Europe now sees that as adding very much to their security. It would be difficult to feel absolutely secure in Europe without the total support and backing of the United States. Equally, the United States sees Europe as her front-line and knows that the defence of freedom and justice in her country also depends upon Europe, so it is a NATO position and without that we would be putting the freedom and justice which we wish to preserve in jeopardy.


Mr. President, this question ties in with the question on the Middle East.

France has expressed an interest in the Soviet proposal to convene a preparatory conference for a possible international conference on the Middle East.

Following certain meetings that you had with Middle Eastern leaders, people said that France was perhaps going to take certain steps to approach the European community in order to get support for the Soviet proposal. Did you discuss this? No? Am I wrong? After your meeting with the Prime Minister of Jordan?

President Mitterrand

No, at no point did France say that France would support the Soviet proposal. At no time. [end p12]


Have you today discussed with Mrs. Thatcher the Soviet proposal and what is Mrs. Thatcher's position on that?

President Mitterrand

We did not discuss this particular point. The Middle Eastern problem is obviously always there—a burning problem and something that is very often present in our minds—but the purpose of our meeting today was not that. You cannot talk about everything all the time at the same time, but as you are asking me the question, I do say this: I can tell you what my own thinking is.

I have always preferred direct negotiations between antagonists. I always felt that that was the best solution, but I have noted after more than five years that that in fact led to nothing. It got nowhere. So it is therefore not reasonable perhaps to be too stubborn in trying to pursue a path which does not lead anywhere.

France had already raised the possibility of a preparatory meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council. It would be a preparatory meeting because a solution cannot obviously be finalised without the participation and agreement of the countries directly involved, and that is what I proposed.

In the first stages, I did not note much approval on the part of the Soviet Union. Then, during his visit to Paris, M. Gorbachev—and this was repeated when I saw him again in Moscow—developed an idea which was not [identical?] but which was similar and which also would lead towards an international forum to deal with and discuss the subject. [end p13]

Those are two proposals which to some extent overlap each other, which is one of the main goals concerned and so close, but one can at least discuss the possibility especially in the original.

The idea of an international conference has been around for years, but the French idea was to have a sort of preparatory job done for a conference which is very difficult to convene and succeed in, but the preparatory work would be done by the five permanent members of the Security Council, because it is obvious that they all have a direct interest in the subject and everyone would be included in fact and people with diverging views.

That is the situation, so it is not true to say historically that France has sort of gone along with the Soviet proposal. No, that is not so. To a large extent, it is true that the two proposals do converge. All the rest would be simply a somewhat contentious interpretation.

If, on the occasion of a possible preparatory meeting of the five permanent members plus other countries if it is agreed that others should join in, the countries directly concerned in the conflict perhaps—no hard and fast conditions have been laid down; this was just a suggestion among many others—within such a forum, if direct conversations were to develop that would be a very good thing.

So these two approaches are not totally different and they could perhaps, to some extent, converge. We are just a country that is showing goodwill. We are not trying to decide for others, but what we can contribute we will contribute and following the conversations I had with Mr. Gorbachev in Moscow, we had the [end p14] impression that we agreed on that sort of minimum stage, although before that there had been very considerable differences of opinion.

But that as far as my answer will go, Sir, tonight.

Question (Japanese Newspaper)

If I heard you correctly, you also talked about problems with Japan.

M. President, could you explain in practical terms what you actually talked about?

President Mitterrand

That would be simple. We feel that Japan is not really doing all it possibly could do in order to remove protectionist barriers, not so much the rules and regulations, but in the general customs of the country.

We think that from that angle Japan, which is a great country and with whom we have excellent relations, is not quite as cooperative as it might be.

You see my answer is a brief one and I am sure that because of the interest that you take in the matter, you are quite capable of adding all sorts of explanations.


Mrs. Thatcher, when she came back from Washington where she met the American President, said that she was reassured on the question of zero options and disarmament after Reykjavik.

Do you today share that frame of mind? [end p15]

Prime Minister

We issued a communique after the Camp David meeting. It is very precise. It tells you exactly what we agreed.

We decided on the priorities for disarmament, namely, disarmament on the intermediate nuclear weapons, on the zero-zero option, provided you get effective verification and also provided account is taken of the short-range nuclear weapons, of which the Soviet Union has a preponderance and of which both France and Great Britain are within range.

Secondly, we agreed the first 50%; reduction of nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, we wished to see the banning of chemical weapons, again by agreement and effective verification.

I, as you know, accept President Reagan and support President Reagan on SDI.

We agreed that the essence of nuclear strategy is an effective nuclear deterrent. We agreed that you cannot look at any one group of weapons in isolation from the total security. You have to look at it in relation to others and the effect on the balance of deterrents, including conventional weapons as well.

We agreed that Trident would continue to be the British independent nuclear deterrent. It would be a modernised Trident—an agreement we reached with the United States some time ago—and also that the United States would continue to modernise her own strategic ballistic missiles with Trident.

You asked me if I was satisfied with that. Yes. [end p16]


Could President Mitterrand also answer the same question? Mrs. Thatcher came back reassured from Camp David. Are you, Mr. President, as reassured as Mrs. Thatcher was and is following her conversations with President Reagan?

President Mitterrand

I have not met Mr. Reagan since the events. I will have an opportunity of discussing the matter with him and then I will tell you what my feeling is.

Mrs. Thatcher did tell us about her reactions following her conversations, but I simply stick to the French position on this. I do not think it is appropriate for me to go into sort of public confessions about my emotional reactions to this or that.

What I am interested in is where do we go from here? I mean what people want to do in practice, and Mrs. Thatcher has defined the main lines of what we are trying to achieve very clearly.

It is not possible to reduce intermediate forces, to do away with them, without encompassing in the zero-zero negotiations a number of things which usually are not present in the negotiations … everything that is nuclear but which is under the strategic level, because even the most relatively small nuclear weapon has a tremendous destructive power. You cannot separate out short-range missiles from intermediate-range missiles.

Those definitions, I repeat, the distinction is a very artificial one. It is perfectly understandable to have such distinctions when you are looking at all this from the point of view of the Soviets and the Americans, because between those two [end p17] countries you have quite a lot of space—the Atlantic or the Pacific—and so one considers strategic arms … countries with missiles which can move from one country to the other … and the intermediate ones are the ones which cannot go directly from one territory to another. In other words, weapons that are deployed in the European theatre. And short-range is even shorter than that—4,000–4,500 kilometres. So two countries cannot hit each other, although the very short-range ones can be, say, 300 kilometres.

But for the Europeans, the region that would be struck, the individuals who would be at the receiving end of a bomb, I can assure you that they will not have much time to ask themselves what the definition really was—was that a strategic weapon, INF, pre-strategic, tactical or short-range? They will not worry too much about the actual definition of the missile which will have killed them, and that is our position.

So we must not get caught up in a vocabulary which is solely related to the question of distance. We have to consider the question of destructive power in other words and whatever the weapon is, in view of the fact that Europe is such a small space, whatever nuclear weapon you are dealing with, it is a real killer for our populations. We are prepared to make a distinction, of course, because you do have to have categories in order to actually organise the discussions successfully, but to have the strategic weapons apart. Broadly speaking, those are weapons which have a long range—that is the Soviet and American definition—weapons which can cross oceans or which without passing oceans, escape the continental definition of Europe, in other words, what I have in mind are [end p18] submarines in particular, which can be 4,500 kilometres away from the target, can be at the bottom of the sea; they are mobile by definition; they are invisible and they can suddenly fire from almost anywhere, you could almost say from any part of …   . but that is all.

No linguistic academy has defined exactly the words we are talking about, but you can use the word ‘strategic’ for that.

We now come to Europe. Ground-to-ground or air-to-ground missiles that can go from one part of Europe to another. Those are short distances, short ranges, less than 3,000 kilometres, 1500, 800, 300. There are 200 kilometres between the two Germanys and the Rhine and if you look at eastern territories, the Italian frontier, Austria, the Balkans, you will find the distances within Europe are very small and there, all the weapons we are talking about, depending on where they are based, where they are fired from—you can just put them anywhere—are weapons which, once they are fired start a nuclear war, so we have to be cautious. We have to insist on most extreme precautions being taken before we say that we will give up a given weapon without being absolutely sure that the other side is doing so. It is not a matter of …   . agreements; it must be practically verified, so we must never neglect any type of weapons that would comprise a nuclear element.

That is really our reasoning, though I entirely agree with Mrs. Thatcher's analysis. The important thing is to define what you are talking about.


Mr. President, these European preoccupations that you have just mentioned …   . observers in Reykjavik felt that they tended to be [end p19] somewhat forgotten and somewhat distant; that the proposals made on both sides of the table literally were sort of above our heads … European preoccupations, France, UK, Europe … what could be done to ensure that they are better taken into account by the super-partners?

President Mitterrand

I would avoid any form of negative comment, because that does not get us anywhere, so what I will do will be to express myself in the positive sense, but I will simply say that next time, if ever one goes that far in the negotiations, it will be necessary for prior consultations—extended and in-depth consultations—to take place for the countries involved to express their views, not as partners in negotiation. We do not in any way claim to have this. My country is not asking to be partner to the negotiations, but we think that consultations are necessary among the countries of the alliance at least. That is, personally, the lesson I would draw from this.

Question (Lebanon)

Mrs. Thatcher, in your fight against terrorism, do you have the feeling that Britain and France are on the same wavelength concerning relations to Syria? Are you disappointed with their friendly and good relations with Syria?

Prime Minister

You will have observed from the European Community meeting that all members of the European Community supported us over Syria [end p20] and all of them took effective action. That, of course, includes France.

I think the first meeting was not conclusive because other European nations were not aware of the full extent of the evidence which had been given in that particular case.

By the second meeting, they were, and prepared to take the action they took.

I think that showed a great unity of purpose against terrorism.

France has reason to know the effects of terrorism. Each of us in Europe has. We do not know where next it might fall. We do know that we stand together now to fight it and I am very happy that that is so and believe that we are cooperating on a scale that we have never cooperated on before.


… reached over the subject of British lamb exports to France and if not, why not?

Prime Minister

Because we are not the proper forum for it. That is the forum of the Agriculture Ministers and I believe that they are dealing with and I hope will deal with it effectively.

President Mitterrand

They certainly have talked about the subject, but we felt that they could perhaps resume a study of the subject and continue talking about it. [end p21]


Mrs. Thatcher, I believe you said that you discussed the Aids problem in your discussions.

Can you help us on that as to how serious you think the problem is and, basically, what you discussed?

Mrs. Thatcher

I said that we should be discussing Aids in the European Council. We really cannot have a meeting and take drugs into account without also discussing Aids.

We have a debate in the House of Commons today on that subject. It is causing great concern in Britain. We are spending a great deal on trying to prevent it by educational measures, through the press, the television and leaflets and getting information to every home about it. It is a matter for prevention, as you know. There is no known cure and we will, I hope, have a brief discussion on this matter, along with drugs, at the European Council.


Did you talk about the Monday debate in the United Nations on Argentina and the present situation between Great Britain and Argentina? Did you tell Mrs. Thatcher how France will vote?

President Mitterrand

Yes, of course. There is no mystery here at all. France wishes to renew its vote last year. Great Britain would like France to support its position or at least abstain. France would be [end p22] prepared to vote an amendment which would make it possible to take into account some of the British points. If there was no such amendment the probability is that France and Great Britain would take somewhat different positions, which is a problem between us, let us face it.