Commentary (The Times)

South Africa: “Thatcher refuses to budge over sanctions” [arguments at Nassau CHOGM]

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 21 October 1985
Journalist: Nicholas Ashford
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 680
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (South Africa), British policy towards South Africa

Thatcher refuses to budge over sanctions

From Nicholas Ashford, Nassau

Mrs Margaret Thatcher has maintained her solitary stand against economic sanctions against South Africa throughout a weekend of intense diplomatic activity as Commnonwealth leaders sought to reach agreement on a programme of joint action to end apartheid in the white-ruled republic.

So far all attempts by a group of four Commonwealth leaders, who have been carrying out she negotiations with Mrs Thatcher on behalf of the other 40-odd members of the association to persuade her to modify her implacable opposition to economic sanctions, have failed.

Although Mr Bob Hawke, the Prime Minister of Australia and a member of the negotiating team, insisted yesterday that progress was being made, some Commonwealth officials privately expressed concern that the summit may conclude later this week Without consensus being reached on a plan of action against apartheid.

Mr Hawke said they were trying to corral Mrs Thatcher into agreeing to sanctions: “But the lady's not for corralling,” retorted a British official.

The venue for the talks moved from the delegates’ luxury beach-front hotel just outside Nassau to an exclusive millionaires' resort, at Lyford Cay, on the westerly tip of New Providence island, where the leaders were spending a private weekend.

These weekend retreats, a traditional part of Commonwealth summits, are intended to allow the leaders to mingle informally and to sort out their difference while relaxing in swimming pools or over games of golf. However throughout Saturday Mrs Thatcher scarcely moved from the house, named Bali Hai, which has been loaned for the weekend by a Canadian millionairess. She did not even join her colleagues for lunch, saying that she was busy working on a speech she will deliver to the United Nations General Assembly next Thursday.

Instead members of the negotiating group kept going backwards and forwards to present various compromise proposals to her - all of which she turned down because they contained sanctions.

The four leaders involved in the negotiating group are Mr Hawke, Mr Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada; Mr Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, and President Kaunda of Zambia.

In some of their discussions they have. also been joined by Mr Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr Shridath Ramphal, the Commonwealth Secretary General, has also played played a role in these talks. Yesterday morning Mrs Thatcher joined all of the other leaders for a round of tough talking which went on for almost five hours. The talks Were due to resume latcr in the evening.

The four leaders have prepared a broad package of proposals for dealing with South Africa which contain elements put forward by each of them.

It would involve a declaration of the Commonwealth’s abhorrence of apartheid and its determination to see this systemn of racial discrimination brought to an end as soon as possible.

South Africa would be required to take certain steps such as lifting the state of emergency, freeing detainees and political prisoners, releasing Mr Nelson Mandela, the jailed leader of the African National Congress, and lifting the ban on the ANC.

Restrictive measures already adopted by member states would be lifted. This is a gesture to Mrs Thatcher, who insists that the political and military measures Britain has taken in conjunction with its European partners are more far-reaching than those taken bv some other Commonwealth countries. It would endorse Mr Hawke’s proposal to establish a Commonwealth liaison committee to go to Pretoria to try to promote a dialogue between the Government and representative black leaders.

Finally the package would call for a graduated set of selective sanctions to be imposed if South Africa failed to takc certain steps - such as initiating talks with black leaders or lifting the state of emergency - within a certain time frame.

Mrs Thatcher is prepared to go along with most parts of the package. but not with the sanctions. She is opposed to economic sanctions in any form, and even to the threat of sanctions, because she believes that they would not work and would damage Britain's extensive economic interests.