Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Apr 1 We
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference returning to London

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: In-flight from Tblisi
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Between 2230 (local) and 2305.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3400
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Prime Minister

I thought that was a journey that was really necessary. It was an even more impressive visit than I had expected.

The talks I had with Mr. Gorbachev, which really amounted to about 13 hours, were I think the most valuable that I have ever had with any Head of Government, because they went into things much much more thoroughly and went into not only what were the differences in the political systems, but the reasons why we saw things differently.

Now, we still finish up by seeing things differently, because there are different political philosophies, but that does not prevent considerable measures of much greater cooperation and a much better basis of friendship.

One of the interviewers asked me, at the end of the visit there, whether if Mr. Gorbachev said he would do something, I would accept his word, and I unhesitatingly said: “Yes” . If he told me he was going to do something, I would implicitly accept his word that he would not only do it but he would strive in every way to keep his word.

I think it better if I ask you for questions.

Question

What do you see as the main benefits flowing from this particular …   . (noise of engine drowns remainder of question)

Prime Minister

I think it will be the follow-up. I think they accept trust as something that has got to be built up over a period of time and, as I did say to them: “Look—when you went into Czechoslovakia, I think we were surprised because many people thought, although you had assembled tanks the other side of the border, that it would do the Soviet Union so much damage if they did move in that you would not actually move in—but you did—and that was, after all, about twelve to fourteen years after Hungary. Then, even later than that, you did move into Afghanistan. Now, those are not things back in the Fifties. One was late Sixties and one was just about the beginning of the Eighties, and anyone in our position has to take those things into account in taking a view on trust and confidence and trust and confidence are easily broken but they take a long time to build up.

I did not say so to him but I have always held the view that one of the reasons—only one—why they did not move into Poland when they got trouble with Solidarity is because they had already seen the devastating effect on world opinion of moving into Afghanistan, so the fact they did not move to Poland in itself was a realisation of the effect of world opinion and that they were losing out on it.

Question

Is it now essential for you to give a personal account to President Reagan? Have you decided on that one way or the other?

Prime Minister

No, I have not decided on it way one or another. Tomorrow morning, obviously, I have to give an account to Cabinet. It is Questions in the House in the afternoon and I have to give a Statement in the House in the afternoon and obviously there will be extensive questioning on that. [end p1]

On Friday, I am in the constituency, so I think that is about enough to get me through this week.

Question

But you have covered a lot of ground with Mr. Gorbachev, as you say?

Prime Minister

An immense amount of ground.

Question

A lot of ground that the Americans would not know about?

Prime Minister

No. We shall obviously send a report to them, particularly on the arms control aspects.

Question

At present, do you think it is going to be done by the Foreign Secretary when he sees the Secretary of State next week?

Prime Minister

I think it probably will, although Geoffrey had his own talks with Mr. Shevardnadze, immensely valuable and a fantastic amount of detailed work, and did a lot of the other work as well—and it has been immensely valuable having him there. We make a very good pair. In some ways, the work he does is complemetary to mine; in some ways, we reinforce one another, and obviously it is marvellous to have him there when we are all talking together.

Question

Can you tell us about Gorbachev himself?

How much of the patience that we have got to show is due to, say, the resistance to what he is trying to do within the Kremlin?

Prime Minister

I am sorry. Could you phrase that question differently, because I am not quite sure what you mean!

Question

… a lot of resistance to what Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do in the Soviet Union.

Prime Minister

I think it is very difficult for us to assess that.

You hear different views expressed. Some say that there is a good deal of resistance on the part of those—which perhaps would not be unexpected—who have got their position not so much on merit but by being next in the Party ranking.

They obviously, if they are told there is going to be merit and you are going to be judged on the basis of your effort and your success, then obviously, there will be some people who will not like that because all of a sudden they have got a new insecurity to consider. But it struck me that what he is trying to do had been accepted as the correct objective and an objective that must be followed through, and that had been accepted throughout the system; that they had worked it out to the extent of the instructions which they should give to manufacturing enterprises and instead of them being told everything about what to do, they have been told that 50%; of their orders will come from the State and the other 50%; they have got to find, and if it is not [end p2] on what they are producing now they have got to find something else to produce—and they have got to do that within certain cash limits. They have also been told it has got to come up to a certain quality.

Now that is quite a major change and the openness in society, I think, is already apparent—the ease with which they are discussing things which one would never have seen before. At the same time, one has got to remember that it is within the structure of a communism that is built into the constitution of the Soviet Union and what they say is that socialism can deliver all these things if you run it properly. I think some of us might doubt that, but obviously, they are opening things up a good deal further than they were opened up before and they are dispersing responsibility far further than it has ever been dispersed before, and it is not from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Now: from each according to his ability, to each according to his work!

Question

You are impatient. Is he impatient?

Prime Minister

I was impressed by the fact that both the Government and certainly one large group of people—the writers and what are customarily called the “intelligensia” —who came to lunch, the doctors and so on, realised that it will take a time for results to show and realised that sometimes when you change a system the first part of the change, some of the difficulties become more apparent. For example, when you throw out things because they are not of the right quality for the moment your production seems to go down and therefore it takes a long time for the benefits to come through.

Question

… Russian television how very much you enjoyed the job you have at present and you would not want to do anything else.

Can we take that as a sign that if re-elected, you would want to serve throughout the next Parliament and does your relationship with Mr. Gorbachev incline you to go on even longer than you might otherwise have considered, because it is important for the work?

Prime Minister

I think there is quite a job of work for me still to do and I would like to carry on as long as possible.

And yes, I do think that we have started a new chapter—indeed, a whole new part of the continuing saga—of the way ahead, and I would like to carry on with it for a very long time.

Question

Could I ask you about arms control? When I asked you yesterday, you said you hoped we would get an INF agreement by the end of the year.

What is the next stage?

Prime Minister

There are two. The one on chemical weapons, we have put up ideas about challenge inspection. They have accepted our ideas. Some of the rest of the Alliance does not wholly accept them, and it has become an absolute forest for jargon. There is something called a “multilateral filter” , believe it or not, and that has got nothing to do with filtering but it is an extraordinary procedure which we would reject. Now they have accepted ours, maybe they have dropped that idea. But it is worth pursuing the chemical hard because it is not generally realised—though I constantly tried to say it—not having any [end p3] chemical and the United States not having yet updated its chemical weapons, the only response to their use of chemical is nuclear.

Now, I think many military would take the view that a threat to use nuclear in response to chemical is an effective deterrent to using chemical. It may be that is one of the reasons why the Soviet Union wants also to get rid of chemical.

But then you have got to watch at the moment on a kind of salami tactic on denuclearizing Europe except for our independent nuclear deterrent. First, your intermediate weapons out, then it depends on short range, what happens on the shorter-range. But if you do totally denude Europe of the shorter-range nuclear weapons, then it means that there is a colossal heavy reliance on the French and British strategic nuclear deterrent.

There is one thing that stands between that and just relying on ours and that is the airborne weapons. When the Russians tackled me about that and said: “Well you have got some airborne weapons!” I said: “Yes, but so have you got a tremendous number of aircraft—indeed, far more than we have—and if you are going to talk about airborne weapons you have got to negotiate airborne against airborne and not count ours in within the shorter-range” .

Question

Where do we go next?

Prime Minister

They did not quarrel with it … they did not come back on it when I said that.

Question

But on INF, where do we go next from that?

Prime Minister

Intermediate. You go straight back to Geneva. There is in fact a draft treaty on the table in Geneva, been put there by the Americans. I think it is one of those things that is supposed to be confidential but has been published everywhere.

The battle there is on whether NATO can get its way of wanting equal limits on shorter-range weapons. At the moment, the preponderance is on the side of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has said constraints upon them and freeze—at the moment on their side. What we are trying to get is equal limits and preferably by the Soviet Union coming down rather than by us going up. But this is how the argument came on reducing the Pershing 2 to Pershing 1, because you could take down part of Pershing 2 and it would be a Pershing 1 and it would become a shorter-range and the Russians jibbed at that very badly. So that has still to be resolved, and that is the main thing which has to be resolved on intermediate, plus verification.

The other thing about verification—you have heard me say several times, instead of zero-zero Europe, plus 100 for the Soviet Union on its Far-Eastern flank and 100 to the United States, possibly in Alaska or elsewhere but facing the Soviet Union within range, it would be far better if you did not have those 100, far better if you …   . verification. If you have got to verify not only the destruction of the weapons, but how many they have got, that is an extra burden on verification and it would be much better if they go, which was our proposal, to global zero, but they have not yet agreed to do that and that is not the proposal at the moment. But it does mean that you have got to be extra specially careful about verification. That has still to be worked out. [end p4]

It is those two things that will take the time. And then, you have got to decide what is in this part of the treaty about the shorter-range, because at the moment it is constraints on shorter-range and immediate follow-on negotiations.

Question

You have always said that deeds matter more than words. You now say that if Mr. Gorbachev gave his word you would trust it implicitly. That would seem to indicate the beginning at least of some sort of special relationship.

What has led you to this position?

Prime Minister

Yes, but this is on special things. When you give your word, it is not on general things; it is usually that you will do special things.

Look—when I asked if I would be able to broadcast, I was told yes, I would be able to broadcast and then I said: “I am not very good at broadcasting face to people because you know you are just looking into a cavernous camera and I like some human reaction. Please could I have interviewers and if I have an interviewer, could the whole thing go out?” and they said “Yes” and the whole thing went out. Maybe they knew what they were going to ask but they did not know what the answers were going to be. But the whole thing went out. They stood by their word on a specific thing.

Question

He did? You mean Mr. Gorbachev?

Prime Minister

Yes.

Question

On specifics, he can be trusted?

Prime Minister

If he gives me his word on a specific thing, I will believe it.

Question

(voice very faint) … the first compliment itself during 13 hours in allowing that broadcast to go out in full, what do you think he is trying to say to the West generally?

Prime Minister

I think surely it is part of the greater openness of society and discussion he has created.

Question

I mean what is he trying to say to the White House in terms of Geneva?

Prime Minister

Oh I can tell you. He is trying to say: “Look—there is a turning point in Soviet society.” Oh yes. The greater openness. He is trying to say that they have reached a turning point in Soviet society marked by much greater openness and marked also by fundamental changes in the way in which they are running their industries and running many things; that they are going to work very hard at that, and that is a factor which he hopes will lead to greater trust and understanding in the West and greater openness does help you to have greater trust because you can see what is happening.

The greater secrecy obviously makes for more suspicion. Greater openness is better, and he is releasing more people, and there is still a lot more to be [end p5] done. But in any change of this nature, if you expect everything to change at once then it is not making a fair and reasoned judgment.

Question

Allowing you loose on 180 million Russian television viewers on prime time, apart from delivering his word on a specific thing, is that not a message to President Reagan and the Geneva negotiators?

Prime Minister

I would think the whole visit and the way it has been conducted is a message, but it is an actual example of what he said in his 27th January speech. I have got the whole lot. I do not know whether you have read the whole lot. It really is extremely interesting.

But you know, Sakharov made a very good comment—that an open society is the best guarantee of peace for neighbours. You can see much better what is happening.

Question

Do you like him, Mrs. Thatcher?

Prime Minister

We get on very well and bearing in mind that we are very different, bearing in mind that we hold very different views, I do think it says a great deal for both of us that we do get on very well. We might have very firm arguments, but there is nothing personal about it and there is no sense of resentment or hard feelings. It is a genuine “trying to thrash things out” to discover not only where the differences are, but where there is a basis for progress, because the essential thing to get hold of is that you have to make progress in politics even with people who hold very different views, because if you could not do that you would never come to agreements with countries of a different political complexion—and in politics, you have to because you all live in the same world.

Question

You are describing respect. Do you like him, though?

Prime Minister

Yes, I like him. I both like and respect him.

Question

What was the most enjoyable thing that happened on the trip as far as you were concerned, whether serious or whether frivolous?

Prime Minister

I think the two things are really very different.

The most important ones were the long morning and afternoon undoubtedly. Does one enjoy it? One enjoys it enormously in retrospect. At the time, you are very anxious first that you are properly expressing your views and secondly, that although at first all the differences come out, that when you have got all the differences out you are going to be able to get to the vital stage beyond that when you can come to the constructive points.

In the end, that is the most valuable and the most satisfactory, and therefore, in retrospect, I suppose you might call the most enjoyable, although I must say that I thought for sheer delight the performance of “Swan Lake” , the like of which I have never seen. It was exquisite.

But they were not comparable, because in one one was wholly engaged—sort of every molecule was engaged in seeing whether the objective could be attained. In the other, one was watching with great delight, but at the back of one's mind was in fact tomorrow, as it were. [end p6]

Question

Prime Minister, we understand you had a very wide ranging philosophical discussion about Mr. Gorbachev 's views on the Soviet Union. Did he give any idea of what his long-term goals really are?

Prime Minister

I think at the moment his longer-term goals are what he would call getting Soviet society to work very much better in producing a very much higher standard of living and on getting something more than that. It is not only prosperity. Getting what I would call the work ethic. He might not call it a work ethic, but he would believe that one ought to work and so I suppose it is a work ethic.

And also, he is very strong against corruption and wanting total integrity in Soviet society, so it has both qualities is what I am trying to say. It has both an integrity about it and greater prosperity, but you must remember that it is all within a socialist framework, which is much much more controlled than we know. That, at the moment, might be right for them and when the refuseniks come to see one and when one learns the desires and wishes of some of those who have not had full freedom of worship, they will say that there is quite a long way to go.

Question

Are not the Americans going to be nervous, Prime Minister, over the strength of your relationship with Mr. Gorbachev?

When you said you could do business with him, they did seem to throw a bit of a wobble …   .

Prime Minister

Yes, and do you know President Reagan said precisely the same thing later. It was a phrase, I think, that has been taken up by anyone who seriously wanted to talk, to reach objectives, recognising that even though people hold different views you have got to live together in one world.

I would have thought one of the valuable parts—perhaps not the most valuable—that I had with Mr. Gorbachev was their objectives in the wider world, their external policy, because obviously, as you know, in the original communist doctrine it is put across very strongly that the ultimate objective is the world domination of communism. He would say that that might be—and he does say that that might be what you would hope for, merely because you believe in that particular philosophy, but that it is no longer a specific objective.

I think I have paraphrased that correctly, that he would say it is a matter of the original scientific theory of socialism. Now, I do not believe there is any such thing as scientific socialism. He would say that it is a matter of scientific theory of socialism, you hope it would extend and extend, but to say that it was a specific objective was not correct or at any rate certainly is not now.

In the sense of there being a battle of ideologies—and I pursue ours on the battle of ideas—he would say yes, they will pursue theirs firmly, but that it is not a specific objective and that seemed to me to be something worth talking about, something worth elucidating.