Archive (Reagan Library)

Cold War: Thatcher letter to Reagan (Soviets shoot down Korean airliner) [declassified 1998]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: 10 Downing Street
Source: Reagan Library: NSA Head of State File (Thatcher: Cables [3]) Box 35
Editorial comments: Despatched 1057 GMT 15 Sep 1983; declassified 13 Oct 1998.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 667 words
Themes: Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Transport, MT contacts with Ronald Reagan

Declassified 98-005#3
SMF, 10/13/98

(1) Poindexter cover note:

The White House

September 15, 1983

Mr. President

Based on the the NSDD on INF that you approved last week, we have started the consultation process with our allies. Letters were sent to heads of state describing in general terms the instructions you might give Paul Nitze.

Attached are Margaret Thatcher and Yasu Nakasone replies. [sic]

John Poindexter


(2) Margaret Thatcher letter:


Dear Ron,

Thank you for your message of 8 September about the shooting down of the South Korean airliner. My views on the barbarity of this act are completely at one with yours. I share your profound horror at what occurred and express my sincere sympathy to the families and relations of the Americans who lost their lives.

This incident has vividly illustrated the true nature of the Soviet regime. Its rigidity and ruthlessness, its neuroses about spying and security, its mendacity, and its apparent inability to understand, let alone apply, the normal rules of civilised conduct between nations, have been an object lesson to those who believe that goodwill and reason alone will be sufficient to ensure our security and world peace.

I also very much agree that we must continue our search for balanced and verifiable agreements with the Soviet Union which reduce the threat of war and enhance [end p1] international security. Equally, I am convinced that long-term stability is unattainable unless the Soviet Union is convinced of our collective strength of will and the adequancy of our collective defences.

I therefore very much agree with you, both for the important reasons of airline safety as well as the wider questions I have touched on above, that our collective response to the Soviet action must be cooreinated among as wide a circle of countries as possible. The Reasons must not be allowed the easy option of trying to portray this as an exercise in East/West confrontation. This is very much an issue for the whole international community. I was therefore glad that our joint lobbying efforts were successful in producing the necessary nine votes for the U.N. Security Council Resolution to have been adopted had the Russians not used their veto.

I am disappointed that we were not able to secure a stronger national response from our European partners in the ten and our allies in NATO. AS you know we pressed hard for a two-way ban of all Aeroflot flights, including overflights, of at least a month. It was very clear, however, that with the French and Greeks starting (and remaining) at nil, 14 days was the upper figure which commanded broad support. The ban will, however, affect not only Aeroflot flights to our countries, but also national airlines flights [sic] to the Soviet Union. We and others have also banned Aeroflot overflights, which will prove a substantial additional problem for the Russians for their remaining services to the Westerm hemisphere, including Cuba.

We must now concentrate on the meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal on 15 September. I believe we should be able to obtain an adequate resolution commanding widespread support and setting in motion both an impartial investigation and specific measures for increasing the safety of flight in the future. In this way [end p2] we may hope to derive some longer-term benefit from this disaster. I know that our delegations will be cooperating closely to achieve this.

In conclusion may I say that, throughout this incident, I have greatly admired and appreciated the lead you have given. Your firm statements, together with insistence on the widest possible consultation, struck exactly the right note.

I look forward enormously to our meeting in Washington later this month.

With best wishes,
Yours ever