Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Jul 17 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for CBS Face the Nation (visiting Washington) (defending Reagan)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Capitol Hill, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Lesley Stahl, CBS
Editorial comments: 1730-1750, but broadcast on Sunday 19 July. Lesley Stahl offers an account of the interview in her memoir Reporting Live (Simon & Schuster, 1999, pp281-283). MT, according to Stahl, plainly disliked being questioned about President Reagan's trustworthiness and failed to return a smile when Stahl smilingly commented: "Lighten up - is that what you are telling us?" The Press Officer at the British Embassy later told CBS staff that MT was 'livid' with the interview. But then mail began to flow from US viewers to CBS, all of it critical of Stahl, along the lines of: "We applauded when Mrs. Thatcher chopped you into bits" (from a Washington D.C. viewer). Stahl believes that MT got a correspondingly positive postbag and came to have a kinder recollection of the interview. When Stahl wrote her a letter of thanks, MT sent her a handwritten note in reply: "Please don't worry about the number of critical letters. In politics we get far more than that! And like you, we just carry on."
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1915
Themes: Parliament, Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USA), Media, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Mrs. Thatcher, Colonel Oliver North, when he testified at the Iran Contra Hearing, said that because of the Hearing the United States was becoming a laughing stock around the world, and he also said that our allies would be wary of helping us in the future because we were airing this so much in public.

Do you get that impression too?

Prime Minister

The United States will never become a laughing stock. We know just how much we owe to the United States. We owed it immediately after the last War and the generosity of the Marshall Plan; we owed it during the last War as she came to liberate countries in Europe from the tyranny under which they had been. We know how much we owe to the United States. Sometimes we do not [end p1] always show it. I try to. We are very much aware of this debt.

I think there is a problem in the sense that once you are trying to discuss every single tiny little thing that happened one simply has to recognise you cannot carry on the business of government unless some things are confidential, and if you damage that then it does make it more difficult perhaps to talk as freely as one otherwise would.

Leslie Stahl, CBS

I know in your country you do not expose these kinds of investigation to the public—you have a law against it. It is damaging.

Prime Minister

Let me put it this way: I answer questions twice a week in the House of Commons. That is pretty searching and it is not always the most courteous of operations or things so I am pretty used to it, but there are times when I am asked about certain things I simply will get up and say: ‘No! That is a confidential communication between governments and it is customary that we do not reveal these and if we did there would not be any!’ Or they will ask me about certain armaments orders and those too are confidential and everyone understands that. So I have to withstand this questioning, but it is part of the way in which we do our work that certain things must be confidential. I tell you who does understand that—the ordinary public understand it; they understand it very well. [end p2]

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Let me ask you though about a question of trust.

I read a report in Ollie 's Hearing that Mr. Poindexter, who is testifying this week, went to the man who is now your British Ambassador to the United States and assured him way back that the United States was making no deals to get our hostages out on the very day that MacFarlane and Oliver North were in Tehran with a plane-load of weapons to trade hostages.

What about trust? What about trust between good friends and allies? Has that broken down for you? I know this is hard, because I know the President is your friend and I know that you are here on a diplomatic mission, but be as candid as you can about what has been broken here!

Prime Minister

You are inviting me to comment on detailed matters which are of concern to the United States and involved in these Hearings. I will not do it! It would be discourteous of me to do so and it would be quite wrong and you may go on asking the same question in a hundred different ways and you will still get the same answer—still get the same answer!

We can continue to conduct our friendship between ourselves and the United States and we can continue to conduct our business. [end p3]

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Can I ask you to tell the American people—not me, but the American people—what position our country is in?

I know you said everybody remembers us from World War II, but we do not have that impression. We have an impression that that was thirty years ago and it is another world now and we get reports of polls in which our credibility has been damaged, our influence weakened.

Prime Minister

Look! We are all part of NATO. The great alliance is NATO. We are staunch allies, so is the United States, so are we in NATO. We are dealing with leaders who understand the big issues and we are not going to be sidetracked from the big issues.

The big issues are the defence of freedom, the alliance of the United States.

Do not forget—it is not only the last War, the Marshall Plan—after President Reagan had met Mr. Gorbachev in Geneva for the first time, he came and he said: ‘Look! I would like to come and tell NATO!’ Everyone turned up, everyone supported him. Then he came back immediately to the United States Congress.

This kind of relationship still exists. The NATO organisation is in Europe. There are 330,000 American servicemen right on the frontier of freedom. We from Britain have 66,000 of our servicemen right on that frontier in Germany. We are doing the same job—we are defending freedom. [end p4]

When the President wants to get our view of how the armaments negotiations should be conducted and what we should agree to, there is extensive consultation. It works.

Yes, of course you get some irritable remarks now and then. Don't you in every family? Don't you, when you have a close family relationship, say some things which just are said in a moment of anger and they do not mean anything more than that? That is the kind of relationship.

Let me use this to say thank you to the people of the United States, this country which is the flagship of freedom, and the only thing we say is please do not, amidst all this, forget the very big issues—and the President certainly is not—because we need the leadership of the United States and we are returning to concentration on the East-West, on the arms control talks. The President has been very active in helping to deal with that situation in South Korea, very active in matters in the Gulf, very active in East-West.

Leslie Stahl, CBS

O.K. East-West! The Soviets, our government tells us, are dragging their feet in Geneva. We are told that the prospect for a summit between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev this year, which everyone is hoping for, is fading away. There is some sense that the Iran Contra Hearing has given the Soviets an impression that Mr. Reagan is weak and they are trying to take advantage of that. Why do you think these talks have turned sour? [end p5]

Prime Minister

Well, I do not think they have turned sour. These issues are very complicated.

You can get a general outline agreement, namely that yes, we all agree that the intermediate nuclear weapons should go, but even that is not absolutely complete because we would like them to go worldwide. The Soviets said no, they want to keep a hundred and the United States keep a hundred. That gives you enormous problems of how to verify that there are only a hundred being kept and the others are being destroyed.

If you are going to get the first arms reduction agreement, you have got to make certain that it will stick and that you can check it at every single stage. You have got to get it right!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Mr. Shevardnadze was expected to come here this week to iron out those details. He is not coming.

The American Government has put out the word very forcefully that they are dragging their feet. It does not seem to be final detail; it seems that the Soviets are trying to stall on us.

Prime Minister

I think you are probably getting a certain amount of brinkmanship. You do in many many negotiations.

I think the Soviet Union wants an agreement and I think the United States would like an agreement, but you have got to have an [end p6] agreement that is sure in your defence and which does not jeopardise your defence. You have got to get it right and you have got to be able to check it at every single point.

So do not be pessimistic! I believe it will come about, but I want it right!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

What did you tell the President? Did you give him any advice on how to get this back on track?

Prime Minister

I said what I told the President when I gave a statement outside.

America is the flagship of liberty. These negotiations are extremely important. We have got to get them right. Get it right! Do not go for a quick settlement—get it right!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Mrs. Thatcher, the British Press wrote before you came here that you were coming to bolster the President, to help improve his image and to buck him up, improve his spirits.

I must say from all the interviews you have been giving they seem to have been right.

Is that why you came and what you are hoping to do? [end p7]

Prime Minister

This is the beginning of my third term. That is something an American President does not have. I have. I am very fortunate and, of course, after I had been immediately to the European Council in Europe, I come to our greatest ally, the United States.

I come because there are big issues to discuss and I come because I think Britain has a contribution to make, but I come as a staunch ally and a loyal friend at all times. Yes, that is why I came, because I want to make a contribution and I want to demonstrate our alliance and our friendship.

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Are you saddened at all by what has happened?

Prime Minister

No. I think you are taking far too downbeat a view. Now why are all you media taking a downbeat view? Cheer up! America is a strong country with a great Ronald ReaganPresident, a great people and a great future!

[Following Stahl remark transcribed from Lesley Stahl memoir Reporting Live (pp281-282), omitted from COI transcript:]

Leslie Stahl, CBS

[Smiling] Lighten up – is that what you are telling us?

Prime Minister

[Unsmiling] Cheer up! Be more upbeat!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

I must say you are being a cheer-leader about it, but we do hear that our influence has been greatly damaged; we hear that our credibility has been shredded; we hear that we have to take extraordinary steps to prove ourselves to the moderate Arab states; we flag ship. … [end p8]

Prime Minister

Why are you doing your level best to put the worst foot forward? Why?

America is a great country. She has a strong economy. She has a remarkably strong economy. She has a people who are enterprising, self-reliant. Even during this difficult period—and it must have been a difficult period—the President has handled the South Korea matter. For the first time in the Security Council the five Permanent Members are getting together to try to bring about a cease-fire in Iran-Iraq. We are talking about possible initiatives in the Middle East. He has taken a tremendous initiative in GATT as a great problem at the moment about agricultural surpluses.

This is not a story of a person who has been deflected by one particular problem from dealing with the great matters which affect the world.

We have trade problems going on and we have a great deal to say about that. We want the world opened up to trade. This business is continuing.

I beg of you, you should have as much faith in America as I have!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

One final question. Did you talk to the President that way? Did you tell him to lighten up? [end p9]

Prime Minister

No. We talked about the great issues.

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Was he down?

Prime Minister

No. The President is fine! He is President of the United States.

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Was he in a good mood?

Prime Minister

Yes. Aren't you pleased?

Leslie Stahl, CBS

I am pleased.

Prime Minister

Delighted!

Leslie Stahl, CBS

Thank you, Mrs. Thatcher!