Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Written Interview for la Repubblica (visit of Signor De Mita)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive
Journalist: Count Paolo Filo della Torre, la Repubblica
Editorial comments:

Item listed by date of despatch.

Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2101
Themes: Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Commonwealth (South Africa), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Civil liberties, Leadership, British relations with Italy

Questions for the Prime Minister (for the Visit of Signor De Mita)

Question 1

Prime Minister, Anglo-Italian relations are traditionally very good and you are much admired in my country. However, after your last meeting with Signor De Mita at Villa Pallanza, a number of British and Italian journalists expressed the opinion that there are now differences on political priorities between Rome and London - for example, on the issue of European integration. Can you tell the Italian people how committed you are to European unity?

Answer 1

Britain has been involved in Europe for some 2000 years. Our destiny is in Europe as part of the Community, a Community which is built on willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states. I want to see the members of the Community work together more closely on the things we can do better together than alone, because Europe is stronger when we do so. But working together more closely does not require power to be centralised in Brussels. Nor does it require ever more detailed regulation. So my answer is: yes, certainly I want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which allows each nation to preserve its traditions and characteristics. I do not want to see a Federal Europe and am certain it will not come. Nor do I want to see the massive transfer of sovereignty which would be involved in implementing in full the recent proposals of the Delors Group on economic and monetary union.

Question 2

How does your concept of Europe differ from General de Gaulle's dream of “L'Europe des Patries”?

Answer 2

I do not find the parallel in any way unflattering, although of course the Community has moved on since General de Gaulle's [end p1] day. We have more common policies and we have the Single European Act. As I have just said, I want to see Europe more united. But unity should not mean uniformity. No more than General de Gaulle do I want to see the suppression of the diverse political and cultural traditions which give Europe its strength.

Question 3

Prime Minister, you have been the first head of a Western government to establish that Michail Gorbachev “is the man with whom it is possible to do business”. Do you think that the world is now a safer place?

Answer 3

The world is certainly a safer place now than a few years ago. There have been fundamental changes in the Soviet Union. I called it a “peaceful revolution” the other day, when Mr. Gorbachev was in London. The Soviet people are being given greater freedom, and more room for individual initiative. It is something many of them want, as we saw in the recent elections. I think that many of the changes now go very deep and would be difficult to reverse entirely.

We have seen the change in foreign policy too. When Mr. Gorbachev spoke to us at the Guildhall here, he talked about getting rid of “ossified dogmas” and creating a peaceful order based on freedom of choice and balance of interests. He said very similar things at the United Nations last December. And he has shown he wants to co-operate more with the West - for instance, the Soviet Union has been helpful over Namibia. The Soviet Union kept its promise to leave Afghanistan, and we have made progress on arms control and human rights, as well as on other regional problems.

So all this has helped to create more trust between East and West. I welcome that. We all do. But that does not mean we should give up our commitment to a sure, modern defence and to maintaining NATO's strength and unity. It is because we have shown our resolve to be unshakeable on those things that the [end p2] Soviet Union has come to realise the futility of confrontation, and started to accept the sort of ideas and initiatives we have been putting forward for many years. Change in the Soviet Union still has a long way to go. We must encourage it, through dialogue, but stay firm on defence because that has brought us this far, and is our insurance for the future.

Question 4

Prime Minister, President Gorbachev has just been to London to visit you. What progress has been made in East/West relations?

Answer 4

I have already said something about this in answering the last question. The visit was good, very good. We had excellent talks with Mr. Gorbachev and with Mr. Shevardnadze on all aspects of East/West relations, and Mr. Gorbachev invited me to go to the Soviet Union again next year for a further round of discussion. Mr. Gorbachev emphasised his total commitment to the process of reform. I do not think he is in any doubt of the difficulties which lie ahead. But I do believe as he does that what he is trying to do is the only way forward for the Soviet Union. I told him that we support him; because if the Soviet people are more free, more prosperous, that will be to the advantage of us all.

There are still many points on which we disagree, not least in the field of arms control. But as Mr. Gorbachev said, we have learned not to dramatise our divergences. There are good prospects for progress overall in many areas of East-West relations.

Question 5

However, do you feel that it is necessary for the West to remain on guard and therefore that it is important to modernise nuclear short-range misiles? [end p3]

Answer 5

Of course. I have said so, many times. A strong defence is the best way to prevent war. It is something you need to keep up, even when things are going well. Because once you abandon highly sophisticated weapons, you cannot suddenly conjure them up again in a crisis.

If we in Europe are to have a strong defence that means that we must keep some nuclear weapons. All of us in NATO accept that. History has shown us time and time again that conventional forces alone cannot keep us safe from war. It is our nuclear deterrent which has kept the peace in Europe for the last 40 years.

If that nuclear deterrent is to be credible, then our weapons must be kept effective. That means modernising them from time to time. The Soviet Union has done exactly the same with its own forces. We believe that it has modernised some 95 per cent of its short-range nuclear systems in the forward area over the last five years. NATO Heads of Governments agreed in March 1988 that we would keep our weapons - nuclear and conventional - up to date where necessary. We must ensure that this obligation is honoured. NATO needs to demonstrate its continuing strength and resolve in its 40th anniversary year.

Question 6

Under your leadership Britain is again one of the most powerful countries in international affairs. You have recently visited Africa. Can you foresee progress towards stability in Southern Africa? Does the release of Nelson Mandela represent one of your major suggestions to the South African Government?

Answer 6

My visit to Southern Africa convinced me that we are entering a new era in the region. There are already agreements on Namibia and on Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. These show what can be achieved by patient negotiation. The United [end p4] Nations plan for Namibia has had a difficult beginning, with armed SWAPO forces making a major incursion into Namibia in contravention of the agreement. In that situation, the key was to uphold the authority of the United Nations. They are the only people who everyone can trust. The task now is to get the independence process back on course. We are doing what we can to help achieve that. We have some experience because of Zimbabwe. I was there too, and I think we would all be very happy if we could feel that Namibia could come to independence and be as successful as Zimbabwe.

Britain makes a major contribution to stability in the region. We are giving a great deal of economic assistance to South Africa's neighbours and to black people in South Africa. We are giving military training to Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to strengthen their ability to defend themselves. We are also aiding the refugees from Mozambique too, especially those in Malawi. I saw some of them. The Malawians are doing a marvellous job, but they need our help.

We must encourage South Africa to press ahead with the fundamental changes which the country needs. Apartheid must go and there should be negotiations with representatives of the full range of political opinion in South Africa against the background of the suspension of violence on all sides. When I saw Foreign Minister Botha in London in March, I urged him to release Mr Mandela unconditionally, because I believe this could be the single most important step towards the opening of negotiations. I would add one further point. When South Africa takes the steps which we have all been urging, that should be acknowledged and reflected in our own policies towards South Africa.

Question 7

Your Government is also very involved in the aim of finding peace in the Middle East. Do you think that the Israelis should now negotiate with the PLO and what other initiatives would you recommend to make peaceful co-existence possible between the Arabs and the Jews? [end p5]

Answer 7

If one looks only to the history of the PLO, one can see why the Israelis are reluctant to talk to them. But important changes have taken place in PLO policy. After years of pressure and persuasion, from many quarters including Britain, Mr. Arafat has accepted Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, recognised Israel's right to a secure existence, and renounced terrorism. As a result, there is now a dialogue between the United States and the PLO. I know the Israelis have doubts about Mr. Arafat but they want and need peace - and I do not believe that the PLO can be ignored. Nor can Israel ignore the growing international concern about its policies in the occupied territories.

As for other initiatives - I am not sure we want yet more initiatives. The recent history of the Middle East is full of initiatives, most of them unproductive. What is needed is patient and steady negotiation and that is what the new United States Administration is seeking to achieve. The essential problem is very simple: two peoples claiming the same territory. Peace is ultimately not about initiatives, but about each side recognising that there is no alternative to tough negotiations and hammering out an agreement which, though not ideal for either side, nevetheless offers a solution. The past months have seen some important progress in this direction; we want to see that sustained.

Question 8

Prime Minister, your firmness in dealing with terrorism has always been a fine example to other countries. What do you think European Governments should do to protect their citizens from terrorist fanatics? Britain has severed diplomatic relations with Libya, Syria and Iran. Would you like to see other European countries follow your example, at least in taking a strong line towards regimes that are connected with terrorist activities? [end p6]

Answer 8

Our policy on terrorism is the only right one - a policy of no deals and no concessions to terrorists, hijackers, hostage takers or their sponsors. There is no room for half measures. We should also stand together in total condemnation of governments who sponsor terrorists or connive at their activities. Such behaviour puts them outside the civilised international community. Since 1986, the Twelve have had in place a set of measures against both Libya and Syria. Those measures should not be lifted without convincing and sustained evidence that both regimes have given up support for international terrorism.

We should like to be able to have a normal relationship with Iran. But that depends on Iran. Our position is clear. Iran must respect accepted standards of international behaviour. Iranian threats of violence against a Salman RushdieBritish citizen are intolerable. We were grateful for the support we received from our European partners in February, leading to the withdrawal of their Ambassadors from Iran for consultation.

Question 9

Prime Minister, your nation is celebrating the tenth anniversary of your arrival at No 10. Many of your compatriots are chanting “Ten more years”. Do you think that their wishes may come true?

Answer 9

What matters to me most of all is that the things in which I believe and for which I have striven over the past decade are carried on fully and forthrightly into the future.