Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at dinner given by Turkish Prime Minister

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Ankara
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1030-0000. MT left the banquet at one point to give journalists the news that British passengers had been released from the Kuwaiti jet hijacked to Iran: see Remarks on hijacked Kuwaiti jet (release of British passengers).
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1525
Themes: Defence (arms control), Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Turgut ÖzalPrime Minister, Mrs Özal, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much Prime Minister for your kind words and for the very warm welcome that you have given us.

I am delighted to be here and proud to be the first British Prime Minister to pay a full official visit to Turkey.

We of course remember your own very successful visit to Britain in 1986. It was an important step in bringing relations between Turkey and Britain to their present high point. Prime Minister, 1987 was obviously a vintage year for elections. We had one in June; yours was in November and the outcome was extremely satisfactory in both cases. In Britain the electorate thoroughly endorsed my Özalite policies. I do not know how they described your policies in Turkey but the fact is that we both believe in the same things: in enterprise, in initiative, in incentives, in giving people something to go for and both our peoples have benefitted handsomely from it. I wish you every success as you continue along that path. Whether it is described as Özalite or Thatcherite, the goal is the same: a better life for all the people.

Prime Minister, the friendship of Britain and Turkey is not just a recent growth. There is a deep respect in Britain for your ancient civilisation; a respect which is further strengthened by the Suleyman The Magnificent exhibition—which is now on at the British museum and is a great success for Turkey. I visited it a short while ago to see for myself the exquisite workmanship.

In the past Britain and Turkey have fought against each other in a world war but we have also fought side by side in Crimea and every British child learns and is proud of the story of Florence Nightingale and her devoted nursing of the war-wounded at the field hospital in Scutari where I shall go tomorrow and in Korea where the heroism of Turkish troops was a byword.

There have never been any doubt about our respect for Turkey's martial prowess. My great predecessor Winston Churchill who you saw summed it up best when he described the Turkish people as a race that challenged the world and for centuries contended victoriously against all comers. Our particular respect is reserved for that remarkable soldier/statesman Kemal Ataturk—one of the towering figures of history. Before coming on this visit, I re-read Lord Kinross 's biography which captures both his skill as a military leader and his understanding of the challenge of making Turkey a modern nation. I recall in particular one phrase of his which demonstrates the true leader:

“I don't act for public opinion,” he said, “I act for the nation” —a remarkable phrase.

If ever one needed proof that history is made not by impersonal forces but by great men, Kemal Ataturk provided it.

But this evening, Prime Minister, our thoughts turn to the present day and to the state of relations between Britain and Turkey and I say without any hesitation that we have every reason to be pleased with them and I pay tribute to the contribution made to that buy your excellent Ambassador in London.

Let us look at some of the results: our trade is doing well, your exports to us were up by 40%; last year and I hope that my visit will give a boost to British exports. Building bridges is one of the purposes of my visit where there has been a case of only one bridge so far though number two is nearing completion thanks to British design, much British civil engineering and large quantities of British steel.

I am interested in other sorts of bridge building too. Hundreds of thousands of our people are now coming to Turkey for their holidays. They learn more about you and bring home word about Turkey's achievements. Prime Minister there are four particular issues about which I want to say a word this evening.

First Cyprus: Britain has particular interests and responsibilities in Cyprus. We want to see an end to the division of the island with a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement which will satisfy the needs and wishes of the two communities there and we are heartened by the statesmanship which you, Prime Minister, and your Greek colleague are demonstrating by opening a new chapter in [end p1] Turkish Greek relations. If you succeed in resolving your differences it can only help the prospect of a peaceful solution in Cyprus.

May I also say that shortly before setting out for Turkey, I had a visit from President Vassiliou who assured me of his resolve to break out of the present impasse. I do not for a moment underestimate the difficulties but we must seize every opportunity to make progress and in my view Turkey has a real interest as she looks towards the future in a settlement.

Secondly the Middle East, to which you referred Prime Minister: Turkey is uniquely placed to help to resolve the bitter and bloody conflicts there. The occupied territories are in turmoil, the status quo is not sustainable. We know the fundamental principles for a settlement and believe that an international conference offers the best way forward. We welcome and support the United States' efforts to help the parties reach agreement. I am sure, Prime Minister, you will use your influence with them to urge them not to reject this opportunity and we are deeply anxious about the war between your two close neighbours Iran and Iraq.

The recent reports that chemical weapons are being used to kill innocent civilians are horrifying. I know how hard you have been trying to bring the parties to the negotiating table. The recent missile bombardment of Baghdad and Tehran—the war of the cities—has made it more difficult to enforce Security Council Resolution 598 but together with the use of chemical weapons, it illustrates the need to do everything possible to press ahead to enforce that resolution and end the war.

And thirdly NATO: we both attended the recent very important NATO Summit which charted a course for the NATO Alliance until the end of the century. We welcome the changes being made by Mr Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. We committed ourselves to further steps: to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and conventional forces but we also agreed that is only by keeping our own forces and weapons up-to-date at all levels including nuclear that we can afford to welcome the changes which are taking place in the Soviet Union for then we know that whatever happens there our own defence is sure.

With half a million men under arms and her land border with the Soviet Union, Turkey is a vitally important member of NATO with a crucial role in keeping NATO's defence strong. Let us be absolutely clear. The South Eastern flank is as crucial to our common defence as the central front and an attack upon Turkey would be met with exactly the same response as an attack on any other part of NATO's territory.

And fourthly, Europe: standing as she does at the junction of continents, Turkey has a unique position in relation to both Europe and Asia, a position which has been greatly strengthened by your own prestige and great knowledge of the Middle East which you have which is always invaluable to the rest of us when we meet in NATO and elsewhere. But I recall again some words used by Kemal Ataturk: he said

“For centuries the Turks have always walked from the East in the direction of the West.”

That is of course literally true and it brought you in the 16th century and again in the 17th to the gates of Vienna but it also expresses an ambition; an ambition to see Turkey firmly anchored in the Western world and a full partner in all its institutions. That ambition has been fulfilled so far in your membership of NATO and of the OECD, of the Council of Europe and in your association agreement with the European Community. Britain has fully supported you at every step. Indeed no country has worked harder than the United Kingdom in recent years to strengthen Turkey's relations with all these institutions.

We well understand that you see Turkey's application for full membership of the European Community as a further step in your progress—in Ataturk 's words— “in the direction of the West” as part of the momentum of your history. The Commission of the European Communities are now preparing their opinion—which is the normal procedure—and that will become the basis for the Community's collective decision; I cannot predict what that will be but I can assure you that in any event Britain will continue to give full weight to the long history of our relations with Turkey through our many common interests and the fact that we are already partners in so many common endeavours, a partnership that we wish to sustain and indeed to strengthen.

Prime Minister, it remains for me to thank you once more for your hospitality and for the tremendous welcome which you and the people of Turkey have given us. I assure you of the very [end p2] genuine feelings of friendship for Turkey which exist in Britain and which will be expressed when President Evren comes on his state visit this summer to which we are all so much looking forward.

May I in turn you all to rise and drink a toast with me to Turgut ÖzalPrime Minister, to Mrs Özal, to your good health, to the success of your policies and to the undying friendship between Britain and Turkey.