Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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1987 Dec 9 We
Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC World Service (Soviet Union)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Radio Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Gordon Martin, BBC World Service
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and 1015.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2589
Themes: Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Civil liberties, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA)

Interviewer

Prime Minister, we are talking now only twelve hours after the signing of the INF Treaty in Washington and Mr. Reagan has described this as “the realisation of an impossible vision”. Is that your judgement of what has happened?

Prime Minister

I do not think it is quite right to describe these things as “impossible”.

What has happened has shown that if both sides really want something and want it enough, they will not let the difficulties stand in their way. They will resolve the difficulties and break through to the opportunities. This is what has happened.

It was difficult to get precise verification arrangements, but we have done it and both sides have accepted it, and undoubtedly, it is an historic and good day for the peoples of the Soviet Union, the peoples of Europe and the peoples of the United States, and we congratulate everyone. [end p1]

Interviewer

And you feel, Prime Minister, that the vision - to use Mr. Reagan's phrase - will not in fact prove an illusion in the long run?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think so. I see this first treaty as not only good in itself, but as a kind of promise that if we can resolve the difficulties on that one we can go on to a next one and resolve the difficulties on that and so I hope make progress, always being sure in our own defence, because each nation must respect the other's right to have that security and have that defence, but managing to achieve that at a far lower level of weapons.

Interviewer

To look back: earlier in the week, Prime Minister, you yourself had an historic meeting in a sense at RAF Brize Norton with the Soviet leader, on his way to Washington.

Were you even more pleased with the way the visit went than you must have been at the news that Mr. Gorbachev was in fact coming here?

Prime Minister

I was absolutely delighted, but the meetings I have had with Mr. Gorbachev have always gone well. I remember when he first came to Britain before he was Secretary-General, and we struck up an [end p2] excellent relationship then, being very frank, discussing and debating freely and easily, and getting to grips with the real issues.

I will never forget my fantastic visit to the Soviet Union and not only the wonderful talks we had with Mr. Gorbachev, but also the remarkable welcome and warmth I felt from the Soviet people. Those talks were about eleven hours and I was, and remain, fascinated and brimful of hope about the changes that Mr. Gorbachevis introducing in the Soviet Union.

You see, all of the things, all of the feelings - greater personal responsibility, greater personal initiative, greater personal involvement - they are everything I believe in, and I always admire bold and courageous policies. And so, yes, we take a great interest day-to-day in everything that is going on in the Soviet Union, and therefore it was a particular pleasure for me to welcome Mr. Gorbachev to Great Britain - and Mrs. Gorbachev - and continue our talks - our talks about what is going on inside the Soviet Union, our talks about the arms control treaties, our talks about human rights, because they too are very important.

Interviewer

You do not think, Prime Minister, that there is perhaps a risk of being a little too prematurely euphoric about the changes Mr. Gorbachev says that he is trying to bring about? I mean, there are those who say that you have been perhaps too close to Mr. Reagan. Some may find your comments on what is going on in the Soviet Union now perhaps a little over-optimistic. [end p3]

Prime Minister

No, I am not euphoric about anything. I am very realistic.

Yes, I am hopeful. In politics, you know, if you believe in anything you have got to be hopeful and you have got to be optimistic, but you have got to be resolute. No-one knows that better than I do.

I started to change things in Britain. For the first two year, it was very very difficult, because when you start to change things, the people who do not want the change they all grumble, they are very critical, and they complain. All of the difficulties emerge first. It is not until after about a couple of years that the benefits really show through and you have got to go through that difficult period to come through to the benefits, which are much longer-lasting and are part of your vision, so far from being euphoric, I am realistic, but I know, having been through it, that someone who has embarked upon that course needs constant support and encouragement and because of my own experience, I try to give that to others when I see them embarking on a similar path. But I never lose my realism - realism on a sure defence, realism that human rights matter - because we think, as you know, that some things - the freedom of speech, freedom of travel, freedom of ideas, freedom of movement, justice for each and every person - these things are so important, they are so fundamental that they transcend any government. No government has the right to stop them. That is really what the Helsinki Accords were all about and those were [end p4] accords signed between the West and the East, and that is why it is important that those who monitor them are able to do so freely, and that is why we watch to see how they are honoured, because how they are honoured influences about how the arms agreements will be honoured.

No, not euphoric - realistic but hopeful because I see in glasnost and perestroika some movement towards those human rights of which I speak and which are so important to future relationships and to all peoples everywhere the world over.

Interviewer

And you feel, after your talks - your many talks - with Mr. Gorbachev, that he is not only, in your famous phrase, a man you can do business with, but a man you can trust?

Prime Minister

When I have talked about particular things with Mr. Gorbachev, about particular cases, and he has promised me anything, he has fulfilled those promises. That I appreciate. More people are being allowed to leave the Soviet Union now, more families have been reunited. Yes, we want those efforts stepped up. What he has promised me, he has honoured. That is on the way to building a basis of trust and confidence. [end p5]

Interviewer

One does not wish to seem hypercritical, Prime Minister, but are you not disturbed by the sort of incident that occurred only a few days ago when KGB men did rather brutally attack Jewish people who were simply seeking to advertise their right to leave their country?

Prime Minister

Yes, very disturbed and upset and you are quite right to raise it. It was a horrific thing. We read about it here and we felt, just as I have indicated, deeply upset that it should have happened at all, but I do not think that one must let that overcome all of the other things that are going on which are going in the direction of greater freedom.

Can I put it this way? In a way, it is like fighting a war. There are certain terrible things that happen, there are certain battles that you lose, but it does not stop you from fighting for the things you believe in and going on with the larger view, the larger vision. You must not be put off by these things. You must try to see that they do not happen again, but do not let them dominate. They act as a little warning that we must try even harder in the future - and we shall.

Interviewer

One obvious touchstone of trust in the Soviet Union's relations with the international community will be its attitude in [end p6] the coming months to Afghanistan.

Have you any reason to hope, Prime Minister, from your talks with Mr. Gorbachev, that he is sincere in his reported wish to take soviet troops out of their now eight-year occupation of that country?

Prime Minister

I believe that the Soviet Union would like to take troops out.

I think that is not the actual question. The question is whether they are prepared to take the steps which will result in the forces of occupation leaving Afghanistan - and that is the acid test - and yes, it is important, because one country does not have the right to occupy another just because it happens to disagree with its policy or because it finds some things going on there it feels might be contrary to what the Soviet Union would wish, and I have made it very clear to Mr. Gorbachev that while Soviet troops occupy Afghanistan we shall hold that very much against them, because you cannot believe in the freedom and dignity of each country to determine its own destiny if you still occupy it.

Interviewer

You told him that point blank? [end p7]

Prime Minister

Yes indeed, oh yes! And of course, we had passed a motion in the European Council - and we were deeply concerned to do so - that we hoped the occupation would be ended during 1988, and it was some years ago since I have been Prime Minister when Lord Carrington, who is now Secretary-General of NATO, was Foreign Secretary and went to Moscow and put to the Soviet Union that Afghanistan should be neutral and non-aligned and that would suit everyone, I believe, including Afghanistan.

You know, when you think of it, Soviet troops have been in Afghanistan for longer than the whole of the Second World War, and it is time they came out, and when they do, the world will praise the Soviet Union, the world will praise Mr. Gorbachev.

You, you might have to take some risks in coming out. You cannot just say: “We are not going to come out until we have got things fixed as we want them in Afghanistan!” That is not the way to do it!

Those people have a right to determine their own destiny. I believe they will be neutral and non-aligned, but you know, we in Britain, we have a bit of experience of Afghanistan. They are stubborn, determined, individualistic people and I look forward to Soviet troops coming out of Afghanistan and Afghanistan taking up once again her own independence and liberty. [end p8]

Interviewer

Moving back, Prime Minister, to these historic events of this week, to the signing of the treaty, Mr. Gorbachev paid, I think, a very generous tribute to you when he said at Brize Norton that the Soviet Union and the United States and Great Britain had moved along this road all together to this INF treaty.

What, Prime Minister, do you see as your contribution or the British Government's contribution to the securing of this treaty?

Prime Minister

First, we are a foremost ally of NATO. We are one of the staunchest allies the world over. We fulfill our obligations, but we are always looking for new steps forward.

If you are as passionately interested in politics as I am, you are always looking for new steps forward. Now, how can we improve things?

Yes, we have a very close relationship with the United States. It is a special relationship. The United States inherited our system of justice, our system of liberty, our system of democracy. That is a shared history and there is no substitute for it, so we will always be very close to them.

We also are very much a part of Europe and we stood alone in Europe when all of the other countries were overrun by Hitler. We stood alone in Western Europe and we therefore, again, have a special relationship because of that. [end p9]

Let me say this: we could not have reached this treaty had it not been also for Mr. Gorbachev and his determination and his resolve and his courage. He feels, as he explained it to us, very strongly that the people of the Soviet Union want a higher standard of living and that the system which they have been operating has not so far gained it, and he does not think they will win it unless they change as he has indicated, and part of that is being able to reduce the sums spent on defence, but at the same time you have got to have your security, your respect, your dignity, and your independence, and it is because of that view and because he found both in President Reagan and myself an echo of that view and a willingness - not only a willingness but a welcome to go along that path, and because I kept very close to President Reagan and also very close to Europe because Chancellor Kohl also has the Pershing missiles and others were prepared to station them, it was the resolve, but you know, there are some times in history when everything comes together, when the people are right for the time and the times are right for the people. This is such a moment and the personalities had the strength to go ahead in spite of criticism and do what they think to be right because they think it to be right. That is what is happening.

Interviewer

So when last night, in front of the Christmas tree here, you initially welcomed this agreement as the promise of more to come, it was with thoughts like those in mind that you spoke? [end p10]

Prime Minister

Very much so. You know, my vision is always one of the future and I felt it really would just be very very appropriate to go out the front door of No. 10 Downing Street - we had just got our Christmas tree up; that for us is a time of peace and goodwill - and to say: “Look! Yes, this can be the beginning of a new era!” and also, as I was saying to Mr. Gorbachev: “We are coming up to the end of the millenium, to the the year 2000. That can be a special time for a new era in history and let us work in the twelve years that are left for that to ensure that it is!” It is just something a bit different. Not many generations live at the time at the end of a century and next year will be very important for the Soviet Union. I think it is a thousand years since Christianity first went to the Soviet Union. That too is another landmark.

Let us use these great landmarks to give us renewed hope, renewed inspiration and renewed resolve to drive through for what is right and that is enlarged human rights, it is leaving Afghanistan, it is sure defence at a lower level of weapons and more than that, it is increasing contacts between the peoples of the Soviet Union and Western Europe and the United States because, you know, once you get more people-to-people, things go better. That was what I learned from my visit to the Soviet Union. [end p11]

Interviewer

Prime Minister, we have talked during this interview about your contacts with Mr. Gorbachev, with the Soviet leader, but you also have found time to chat with Mrs. Raisa Gorbacheva. What is your appreciation of her as the wife of a leader, as a woman, as a representative of the new spirit in the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

She is a very welcome visitor to our country. We get on very well together and I asked what she would like to do when she was with us and she chose to go to a school.

She had a fantastic visit. The people were there to welcome her and she is marvellous with children, and she said to one little boy: “Tell me! Do you know about Russia and the Soviet Union?” Oh yes, he knew all about Russia and the Soviet Union. How long had he known about it? All his life, he said. He was nine. Was it not lovely? But she had a marvellous visit and she is passionately keen that things should get better and passionately keen on the future for the children.

Interviewer

So perhaps one day, Prime Minister, you will be able to visit a Soviet school and discuss …

Prime Minister

That would be lovely, absolutely lovely.