Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with Italian Prime Minister (Bettino Craxi)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.12 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1445-1530 set aside in diary.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3379
Themes: Economic policy - theory and process, Agriculture, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union Budget, Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Civil liberties, British relations with Italy
(Note: The translation from Italian is verbatim)

Prime Minister

It has been a happy and constructive summit.

I started by congratulating Prime Minister Craxi on his excellent speech in the City of London last night. This was a fitting prelude to the fourth summit at which the two of us have participated and I believe that the meetings have marked a steady strengthening of our relations. I should like to pay tribute to Signor Craxi 's personal contribution to that.

I would also like to congratulate him on the very strong performance of the Italian economy and to save you inviting me to comment on the suggestion that Italy's national income has overtaken the United Kingdom's. I would only say that it depends upon what figures and exchange rates you take. But the important point is that both our economies are doing very well and we can both be pleased with that.

Let me just mention to you briefly the main subjects which we have discussed:

We had a very good talk on East West relations and arms control, on which our views are generally very close.

I was pleased to be able to consult Signor Craxi about my own forthcoming visit to Moscow, which I think comes at a very interesting and important time. [end p1]

We agreed that in the arms control field the priorities spelt out following my meeting with President Reagan at Camp David last November offered prospects of real progress.

We both expressed the hope that the United States would continue to consult its allies closely on issues connected with the Strategic Defence Initiative.

Of course, we also discussed European Community issues and, in particular, the review of the Community's finances which is just starting. Inevitably, there is some difference of approach here, because Britain is a major net contributor to the Community budget while Italy is a net beneficiary. I explained our view that the Community's finances must be run as rigorously and in as disciplined a way as our national finances. We must have really effective control of public expenditure in the Community. We must also have a thorough reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which we started during our British Presidency. Agriculture too, must live within the budget and not determine its size. I made clear that these two pressing needs must be met before we could even consider any question of increased resources. Indeed, if we were successful in establishing effective budget discipline and cutting back the costs of the CAP, there probably would not be any need for additional resources.

Other subjects which we covered included terrorism, on which we both welcome the improved cooperation within the European Community and between our two countries bilaterally, and I also told Signor Craxi how highly we appreciated Italy's success in dealing with terrorism at home and how much we admired the countless individual acts of heroism which made that possible. [end p2]

We also discussed the Middle East, where both our governments feel concerned about the situation and, of course, we discussed the economic summit which will be held in Venice in June. It is vital that we should continue work in that forum to get rid of agricultural subsidies which are no less extensive in the United States and Japan than in the European Community.

Finally, we were able to confirm that bilateral relations are in very good order. We are very much looking forward to the fourth meeting of the Round Table in May in Glasgow and I am very happy to announce that President Cossiga has accepted Her Majesty The Queen's invitation to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom on 17–20 November this year. This will give us enormous pleasure. We know him as a close and good friend of this country and it is fitting that there should be a state visit this year.

I wish now to ask Prime Minister Craxi to add his comments and say a few words to you.

Prime Minister Craxi

May I express my gratitude to Mrs. Thatcher and the British Government for the particularly friendly welcome that we received? Every time we come to Great Britain, we see the signs of a deep friendship, which we fully share and with greatest attention to what is going on in our own country. Here, I would beg Margaret Thatcher not to attach too much importance to statistics, which seldom tell the truth, so we do not know exactly how matters stand. We know that they are going better than they were—that we do know—and this of course is very gratifying. [end p3]

These are always meetings of great interest. We compare our points of view; we try to bring them closer together, to correspond as much as possible, given the responsibilities that our countries have in the international field. In particular, we agree on the fact that the relations as to prior consultation—not our a posteriori consultation—which has meant that the friendly relations of solidarity with the United States have been consolidated even in the light of very difficult positions and these relations, based on consultations, are working well and are active and this is important, so as not to be faced with situations which we find it difficult to interpret or which we interpret erroneously without wishing to. Therefore, it is necessary that in all the topics that we have to deal with relating to military balance negotiations, armaments control, disarmament, there should be close consultation between the United States and the allied countries and of course, between England and Italy.

As the British Prime Minister said a moment ago, we were gratified that our cooperation should become increasingly close and specialised in terms of the information regarding the dangers which can arise from terrorist acts and the so-called infected or sick areas where terrorism is undertaken, where it originates.

The European Community is not, of course, in good health. We need to find the appropriate cure to get over these difficulties. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction in our country on how matters are going. We would like to see order in a situation which means financial crisis, inadequacy from the institutional point of view, inadequate policies in a community which cannot give 60%; of [end p4] its resources to ensure guaranteed agriculture, whereas our industrial societies (sic) … this is a British concern and Italian concern which I think are entirely justified, soundly based, and we shall have to see how we can develop some sort of action that can put the Community back on a straight path.

We exchanged views on a number of situations both near us and far from us and we have seen that there has been a development in bilateral relations based on a constructive experience and one of great cooperation and I, in my turn, would underline my gratification for one of many meetings between Great Britain and Italy. [end p5]

Question (In Italian)

I have more than one question, if I may,—three.

The first is the following:

There is a great deal being said, especially in the United States, about the possibility of bringing forward the application of SDI. Could I ask the two Prime Ministers what they think about the ABM Treaty? Is it still valid, this possibility of extending it for ten years?

The second question regards Europe's financial crisis:

There has been a proposal by the Chairman of the EEC Community adopting the gross national product instead of the VAT as the basis. I would like to hear some views on that point too. And I will stop there.

Prime Minister

How you stopped it too! That really was great will power. Right. Would you like to go first? You are the guest.

Signor Craxi says I shall go first.

First, on the ABM Treaty, it is of course signed between the Soviet Union and the United States.

With regard to SDI, there is a clause in the ABM Treaty—it is agreed statement (d)—which foresaw that new anti-ballistic systems on different principles might be developed and that provided for a mechanism to discuss the consequences of those systems.

When it comes to interpreting the treaty, it is mainly for the signatories of the treaty who have the negotiating record of what things were intended to mean at the time they were agreed. As far as we are concerned, we are both supporters of SDI, but we [end p6] would value it enormously—as I indicated in my opening statement—if the United States would closely consult with her European allies on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and that is the main burden of what we wish to say. We also hope that Europe would be able herself to get together a concerted view upon it, because we think it helps in discussions across the Atlantic.

So our main message on that is to the United States: please consult your other allies in NATO on this matter of vital importance to us all.

On the second point you raised about Europe and the financial crisis and the proposal by the Commission that the percentage contribution should be related not to VAT but to the gross domestic product, the answer is no.

Signor Craxi

On the SDI matter, we adopted at a given moment a certain position and we set in train cooperation within a framework which had been described to us which involved a certain time schedule, a specific approach to the USSR counter-policy. Is there anything new, a speeding-up of matters? If so, we would like to discuss this with the United States who at a given moment did discuss with us and got our consent to the SDI project.

On European financing, there is a great risk. There has been an increase in the own resources and only a year has passed since the impetus of expenditure has gobbled them up. We must consider increasing resources, but there is a risk that if we do not modify expenditure quite soon we should be exactly where we were before, and this is simply not possible. Hence the need to intervene and modify the dynamics of expenditure. [end p7]

John Dickie (Daily Mail)

In your assessments of East-West relations, did you take the view that the releases of political prisoners by General-Secretary Gorbachev would perhaps open new doors to a better relationship between East and West and perhaps even to a summit between President Reagan and General-Secretary Gorbachev?

Mr. Craxi

When they release the prisoners who are subject to unjust imprisonment, I think this must always be greeted with joy and enthusiasm. This should be reconciled with the view of the Russian intelligentsia rather than as a favour done to other countries, in particular the United States.

There can be no doubt that there are signs of a new course, of a new tendency, in the USSR—greater tolerance, greater openness a wish to effect changes where there are sharp contrasts in the Russian society vis-a-vis ours.

All this can contribute to create a more favourable climate. It does obviously arouse great interest and quite certainly, it contributes to the dialogue between the two countries. Everything, however, within the limits in which this is occurring. They are important facts; they are episodes which probably do point to a process and we hope that this will be so.

Prime Minister

Can I join with Prime Minister Craxi in welcoming the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. Let us always welcome things which are steps in the right direction and welcome them so [end p8] that they may be the prelude to many many more releases.

The only other point I would make also underlines what Prime Minister Craxi said. Relations between the East and West are not only matters of arms control. They are the wider relations, of which human rights are a very very important part, because if you are to have the maximum results from arms control, that could only come about if steps are taken to bring greater confidence between the free countries and the countries in the Soviet Union, and therefore human rights matter a great deal to us, and while there is a long way to go, we welcome every step towards greater human rights.

Question (In Italian)

How much was said about the monetary markets? How much did that figure in the talks today? I take it that the Economic Ministers who were there did talk about this?

Prime Minister

We ourselves did not discuss the monetary markets. We are just aware, on a slightly different aspect of that, that on the agri-monetary (phon.) matters there is a review in March, but as far as the present financial markets are concerned, they seem to get on very well without comment.

Question (Associated Press)

Prime Ministers, did you discuss the hostage problem in Lebanon and do you have any new ideas or theories on how to resolve it? [end p9]

Prime Minister

I do not believe there are any new theories or ideas. The old one is best. You stand firm and you do not bargain.

Mr. Craxi

We still have this great concern, because the Lebanese situation has done nothing but grow worse. It has now become the place where armed bands congregate, terrorists groups which act of course outside Lebanon's frontiers. This, I think, means there must be greater concern and thought in the international community. I hope the life of the hostages is saved.

As far as my country is concerned, we from time to time receive threats from terrorist organisations in my country and I do not think we shall react by giving way or being affected by intimidation and terrorist threats.

Question ( “II, Manifesto” , Stefano Chiarini)

I would like to ask you if there was any discussion at the summit of the situation of the Palestine camps in Lebanon and if the two Governments are thinking of concrete proposals to reduce the suffering of these Palestine people where hunger rages, as we have learnt in recent days.

Prime Minister

We did not discuss those ourselves, but it is possible that our Foreign Ministers did, so may I ask them. Signor Andreotti? [end p10]

Signor Andreotti

Yes, it was discussed with Sir Geoffrey and what we said was that the only step that could be taken is to support the appeal made yesterday by the representative of the High Commission for Palestine Refugees. Support him in the negotiations going on with all parties in Lebanon, so that within the camps there may enter the representatives of the UN Commissariat and offer all the assistance which may be required.

Signor Craxi

Could I make a comment on that point? Italy had sent a military group for the specific protection of the Palestine refugee camps. This task was admirably performed. Then, we were beseiged by objections within the country. We were asked to withdraw our group. The communist opposition were in the forefront for withdrawal of our troops. I was against this and I remained against it until the decisions were taken by other countries who made up the multi-national force and at that point there was nothing Italy could do but also to take its decision to withdraw.

The slaughter, the massacre, the dreadful situation there, that is going on without any military protection to protect men, women, children who are dying of hunger …   . well this sort of situation had not happened until we withdrew.

Question (In Italian)

May I ask if the two Ministers discussed the war between Iraq and Iran? [end p11]

Prime Minister

We ourselves did not discuss it in detail. We are very much aware of the tragedy and very deeply concerned that all efforts taken so far have not met with success in trying to resolve it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think I can just add that Signor Andreotti and I did discuss it, sadly not for the first time. We share the sense of tragedy at the prolonged slaughter that has been taking place there. We believe that the best prospects for bringing the conflict to a conclusion lie in supporting the efforts of the United Nations. Secretary-General and we shall be continuing to work together so far as we can at the Security Council to try and promote that.

Nike Chennoy (CNN TV)

May I ask both Prime Ministers to what extent they now entertain any doubts or have any concern about the ability of President Reagan to play the kind of leadership role that the United States President has traditionally played in relation to his NATO allies and the West in general because of his current political difficulties at home?

Prime Minister

I have great confidence in President Reagan and in the United States as our foremost most reliable ally and we continue to be immensely grateful to her for her leadership of the free world and [end p12] the way in which she also, along with us, defends our liberty in Europe.

Signor Craxi

Our alliance with the United States is not in discussion. We follow and appreciate the views which are expressed in the United States by American citizens so as to understand what exactly is going on and what will happen.

Question ( “Solo Ventiquattro Orh” )

Given the large delegation from the industry ministry, were industrial matters discussed, telecommunications, airbus for instance? What was discussed basically?

Prime Minister

Our Industry Ministers had their own bilateral meeting. Are they with us or have they gone?

Mr. Channon

We discussed a whole range of industrial matters, including collaboration in telecommunications. We discussed the problems in the steel industry. We had a whole range of international trade issues to discuss, and my colleagues went through many subjects dealing with the possibility of collaboration between Italy and the United Kingdom. [end p13]

Italian Industry Minister

I think that the two questions which are of the greatest interest to the person asking the question are the prospect of a gradual liberalisation in the field of the steel industry from the Community point of view, and the possibility of cooperation between British and Italian firms in the telecommunications field, with the encouragement of the respective governments.

Prime Minister

We also have here our two Agriculture Ministers if you would like to dip your toes into that water.

Question (Italian Journalist)

Mrs. Thatcher, are you more worried today about the state of Anglo-Italian relations or about the forthcoming wedding in the Savoy Hotel on Saturday?

Prime Minister

I am not really worried about either. About one, I am very happy. About the other, I know there is a lot to be done.

Andrew McEwan (The Times)

Could I ask Mr. Channon and Mr. Zernoni (phon.) whether they discussed nuclear power, whether the British Sizewell B Report is being made available to the Italian Government for its political conference on nuclear power to be held later this month, and whether Mr. Zernoni has any views as to whether the British designed Magnox power station at Lattina (phon.) should be closed or not? [end p14]

Mr. Channon

No, we did not discuss those issues. They would be for the Ministers of Energy. These were not discussed this morning.

Prime Minister

But if anyone wants a copy of the Sizewell Report they are welcome to have one.

Alan Copp (Sunday Telegraph)

Was there any discussion of the meeting this past weekend which I am told the United States wanted to hold in Rome between Foreign Ministers on the subject of anti-terrorism tactics? If so, did anyone propose rescheduling such a meeting? I understand it was called off because of the delicate situation at present.

Prime Minister

Not with us, but maybe Foreign Ministers discussed it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We made a brief reference to the fact that the meeting had not taken place. The reasons for that were well understood and we are maintaining, not only amongst Europeans, but amongst the wider range of countries represented at the Tokyo summit, the closest possible cooperation in the fight against terrorism.