Commentary (The Times)

Cold War: "Thatcher talks fail to bridge chasm" & "Reagan tells Thatcher Soviet-US deal would not affect UK deterrent" (Camp David meeting)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 17 November 1986
Journalist: (a) Andrew McEwan & (b) Christopher Thomas
Editorial comments: There are two articles in the same edition of the paper, both reproduced here.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1,098 words
Themes: Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Item (a):

Edition 1
MONDAY 17 Nov 1986

Thatcher talks fail to bridge chasm UK Premier and US President Reagan fail to agree on arms control


A fundamental difference of approach to arms control between the US and Western Europe remained unresolved yesterday as the Prime Minister returned from her Camp David meeting with President Reagan.

The chasm between Europe's cautious step-by-step view of nuclear disarmament and Washington's grand vision was not bridged during the talks. The European allies, who are to be briefed through diplomatic channels, will be quick to spot the main omission in a joint communique issued by Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan.

It contained no accord on the main issue: the US proposal to eliminate all ballistic nuclear missiles over ten years. Mrs Thatcher is certain to receive warm approval from President Mitterrand of France for her refusal to concede this principal [sic] when they meet in Paris on Friday.

Anglo-French opposition to this plan does not stem solely from reluctance to abandon Trident and France's force de frappe.

Britain, France, West Germany and other European allies believe ten years is a grossly optimistic time scale.

Removal of the main nuclear deterrent without first cutting East-West conventional forces and chemical weapons would destabilize Europe, they say.

The communique at first appeared to answer these fears by removing any American threat to refuse to supply Trident missiles for Britain's Polaris replacement.

After a closer reading of the communique, one Western diplomat pointed out that the wording left President Reagan's intentions unchanged. The reference to Trident was seen more as an effort to help Mrs Thatcher answer criticisms from Mr Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader, than any shift in Washington's position.

The key words were that the President “reaffirmed his full support for the arrangements made to modernize Britain's nuclear deterrent with Trident”. This stopped short of a full guarantee.

Before last month's Reykjavik summit, the Kremlin repeatedly expressed willingness to conclude and INF agreement. Only at the summit did Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, make it conditional on the Americans abandoning space testing of SDI, the 'Star Wars' system.

An apparent attempt by Mrs Thatcher to soften the focus of the East-West debate on the limits of SDI testing aroused considerable diplomatic interest.

The Kremlin has insisted on a narrow reading of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty which, it claims, would prohibit testing in space of laser-based anti-missile defences.

Ground-based testing, in which the Americans believe the Soviets are engaged would be permitted under such a reading.

When Mrs Thatcher visited President Reagan in 1984 she pressed for any testing to be conducted within the treaty's limits, without clarifying this point. After their follow-up meeting at the weekend she said that the research limit should be defined as including the assessment of SDI's feasibility.

The Americans are likely to interpret this as including space testing, although Mrs Thatcher said that was for a standing consultative commission to consider.

Her selection of the word 'feasibility' was seen yesterday as a fudge designed to please the President without compromising her earlier position.

Item (b):

Edition 1 MON 17 NOV 1986

Reagan tells Thatcher Soviet-US deal would not affect UK deterrent


Mrs Thatcher was given a clear assurance by President Reagan at Camp David on Saturday that Britain's independent nuclear deterrent would not be affected by any US-Soviet arms reduction agreement.

The assurance is a boost to Mrs Thatcher's argument that Britain should go ahead with the purchase of the Trident to replace Britain's ageing Polaris missiles, despite Mr ReaganShe said the President had confirmed his 'full support for the arrangements made to modernize Britain's nuclear deterrent with Trident'. She said: 'It is vital that we continue to have an independent nuclear deterrent. '

Mrs Thatcher said she and President Reagan had agreed that priority should be given to an agreement on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, with restraints on shorter range systems, a 50 per cent cut over five years in US and Soviet strategic offensive weapons, and a ban on chemical weapons.

The statement conspicuously omitted any mention of President Reagan's proposal at Reyjkavik to abolish all ballistic missiles within 10 years, a proposal that alarmed Western Europe, which feared being left vulnerable.

Mrs Thatcher said: 'Right now there have been no armaments control agreements following Reykjavik. There is at the moment no change in the arms control position .. we shall carry on as we have in the past with the same policy under Nato. '

She emphasized that shortrange missiles should be included in negotiations with the Soviet Union, because they were in such positions that they could fall on England and Wales.

She said she agreed with President Reagan on the need to press ahead with the Strategic Defence Initiative. An agreement on intermediate-range missiles would be possible if it could be decoupled from SDI. Whether it could be was a matter for the Soviet Union.

Mrs Thatcher said research under the SDI programme should be taken up to the point of 'feasibility' because 'you're still researching when you are going right up to feasibility. If you don't know whether a system will work, you still research to find out. That is my own interpretation of research which I have made very clear, also, to the Soviet Union. I don't think you could have much less'.

Asked if that was compatible to continued adherence to the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, she said there were various interpretations of the treaty and suggested that a special committee be established to resolve problems of interpretation.

Mrs Thatcher said: 'We confirmed that Nato's strategy of forward defence and flexible response would continue to require effective nuclear deterrence, based on a mix of systems. At the same time, reductions in nuclear weapons would increase the importance of eliminating conventional disparities. Nuclear weapons cannot be dealt with in isolation, given the need for stable overall balance at all times.'

She turned aside questions about the Reagan Administration's dealings with Iran and repeatedly said Britain's policy was not to sell 'lethal weapons to either side' in the Iran-Iraq war. Asked whether that was an implied criticism of Mr Reagan's actions, she said: 'I have nothing to add to what the President said in his very clear statement on Iran. I believe implicitly in the President's integrity on that subject. '