Indira Sounds Nuclear on Diego Garcia
From Emirates News Newspaper (Abu Dhabi, UAE), Monday, May 11, 1981 (Front Page)
By Adel Bishtawi in New Delhi
Abu Dhabi, May 10 (WAM): “The Americans have decided to store nuclear arms in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia at a time when the international situation is drifting towards confrontation,” according to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India.
Mrs. Gandhi described her country’s relations with the Gulf countries as “very good” and these have been cemented by the recent exchanges of visits. “Our relations are historical, cultural and commercial from the ancient days,” she said, “and the relations have been updated to be more relevant to the needs of today.”
“What about the UAE,” she was asked. “Especially with the UAE,” she replied.
Mrs. Gandhi told the Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an exclusive interview that the increased foreign presence in the Indian Ocean, the actual war going on in Asia and the thriving of the armament industries are all signs of the international situation drifting, willingly or unwillingly, towards a confrontation.
“Some years ago there was a genuine effort to move towards a greater understanding even though countries have different systems and points of view, but there were-efforts to find areas of agreement and now it is obvious we are going in the reverse direction,” the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy added.
Mrs. Gandhi expressed her deep concern over the militarisation of the Indian Ocean and the rivalry of the superpowers in the Gulf. Voicing India’s demand for maintaining the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace, she added: “There is no way you can get away from the necessity of having a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean, and although it is not in our hands to keep the Ocean as such, all the littoral states have strong feelings on this issue.”
In 1971, Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, raised the issue of proclaiming the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace at the United Nations, but since then the tension has been mounting while increased super power build up of naval forces is causing a great concern for the 36 countries in the region.
Mrs. Gandhi agreed that it would be impossible to go to the other extreme of achieving total neutrality of the Indian Ocean, but at least an effort should be made towards this end. “What is happening now,” Mrs. Gandhi said, “is that one power increases its presence and the others feel they have to go up one more step and this is where the danger lies.”
Mrs. Gandhi expressed India’s deep interest in maintaining the stability of the Gulf and dismissed the idea that the British withdrawal from the Gulf in the early seventies has created a security gap there. “The western powers look at everything from their point of view,” she said, “but if they did not have any presence there I do not think anybody else would threaten security.”
The Prime Minister agreed entirely that the Gulf countries are right in their efforts to work together to preserve the stability and security of the region and that these two issues are best handled by the countries concerned and not by any outside power.
“I entirely agree,” she said, “not just about the Gulf but also in other areas, and that is why we are anxious that our subcontinent should have good relations with other countries because that would be the best security for all of us,” the Prime Minister added.
Mrs. Gandhi started on May 5 a tour to Switzerland, Kuwait and the United
Arab Emirates where the first Gulf summit meeting will convene on May 25 following the agreement among six Gulf nations to form the Gulf Cooperation Council.
” We can understand the desire of the six Gulf countries to work together and also to strengthen themselves for any eventuality,” Mrs. Gandhi said. “We only hope that nobody will think that this combination is against anybody because that is what invites a reaction.”
Asked about the nature of the effort which should be taken to ensure the neutrality of the Indian Ocean, Mrs. Gandhi said that all the countries concerned should try to persuade the super powers that nobody should take attitudes which aggravate the situation any further.
Mrs. Gandhi denied that the Afghan crisis was the cause behind the escalation of tension in the area. “I would not say that is correct because the presence of super power forces in the Indian Ocean, and the decision to turn the island of Diego Garcia into a nuclear base were taken before the Afghan crisis,” she said.
The 15-mile-long and one-mile wide island of Diego Garcia was leased from Britain by the United States to serve as a rear base for a marine brigade for amphibious landings.
In early April (1981) British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was asked whether her government would approve an American request to install or store nuclear arms at the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. Any such thing would be a matter for consultation between the United States and ourselves and they do not take such steps without consulting us,” she added.
Mrs. Gandhi reaffirmed India’s concern about the impasse of the Middle East situation and reiterated support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the aspirations of the Palestinians.
“We have always supported the Arab cause and in the earlier years this was held against us by some parts of’ the world. We have always supported the Palestinian cause and recognised the PLO and H.E. Mr. Yasser Arafat had a very successful when our support was visit to India re-emphasised,” Mrs. Gandhi said.
Asked about the moves which should be taken to bring the Middle East closer to peace she said: “This is a very difficult question fundamentally in the hands of the Arab countries, but all I know is that the solution has to be one which the Arabs have to agree upon and support and this cannot be something which does not meet the requiremts of the basic question and by that I mean the Palestinian question.”
But in view of India’s strong support for the PLO, why does India keep an Israeli Consulate in Bombay, the Prime Minister was asked. “We do not keep an Israeli Consulate,” she said. “We do not have any diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Consulate was allowed to stay because we have a number of Jews here who were travelling back and forth and the Consulate was allowed because it is intended primarily to keep them.”
India imports more than hall- of its petroleum requirements estimated at 30 million tons per annum. Out of the 340, B/D India imports, about 240, came from both Iraq and Iran prior to the war that began in September. A tour of’ the Gulf’ region by senior Indian officials earlier this year resulted in a series of contracts with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE (30, B/D) to provide the oil India lost because of war.
Mrs. Gandhi admitted that there are some difficulties regarding the illegal immigrants of Indian origin who are in the Gulf’ countries, but she thought those difficulties are not insurmountable and can be sorted out.
There are an estimated 500, 000 Indians working in the Gulf countries particularly in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Indians are concentrated in the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman each remitting an estimated 600 UAE Dirhams a month, or US $ 160.
“What did your election mean for the women of India?” she was asked.
“We do want our women to play an important role internationally, and our great leader, Mahatma Gandhi showed this very clearly because he was in the first leader to drive the average woman out to take part in the political movement and this was the major breakthrough for the women of India, she said.
But would the Prime Minister agree with the description of’ a British magazine that she is an iron lady?
“No,” she replied.
“How do you describe yourself then?”
“I am just a woman.”
The last two known photographs taken of Afghan President Hafizulla Amin before his assassination on 27 December 1980. The photo above was taken by the photographer of the presidential palace. Below a photo which I had taken by myself. (Better camera but worse photographer)
Here is how The Sunday Times (London) opened a major coverage of Afghanistan on January 6, 1980:
On Boxing Day while the skies over Kabul shook with the roar of Russian military transport planes, President Hafizulla Amin gave a relaxed interview to an Arab journalist. “The Soviets,” he said, “supply my country with economic and military aid, but at the same time they respect our independence and our sovereignty and they do not interfere in our domestic affairs.”
Within hours of that statement, recorded Adel Bishtawi for the paper Al Sharq Al Awsat, published in London and Mecca (sic), Moscow’s, interference had proved, in fact, to be total. But Amin himself was not there to-see. He was, according to reports, tried by Revolutionary Court, found guilty of treason, and summarily executed the next day. His wife, his seven children, his nephew and countless number of his aides and supporters were apparently died in his ally’s Christmas power play.”
His hard-line Marxist sup planter, Babrak Karmal, announced, on radio and TV (but not, cautiously, in person) that he welcomed Soviet help in countering “external subversion” and an estimated 50,000 men, with at least 1,500 tanks and armoured vehicles, and an armada of Migs and helicopter gun ships, started to pour across the Oxus river frontiers arid into Afghan air space.
The tone of Amin’s interview (he also spoke approvingly of the USSR’s willingness to accept his veto on military bases) suggests that, despite the scepticism of President and Mrs Thatcher, the Red Army may indeed have entered Afghanistan -initially- at his own request. He needed all the help he could muster, with more than 60 per cent of his country in the hands of various religious and political insurgents, and he could genuinely believe that the avalanche of hardware was arriving to support his beleaguered and tottering regime.
But it is clear from the eyewitness account of a highly placed Afghan now in New Delhi, that Amin was comprehensively deceived as the final stages of the coup began.
As dusk fell on December 27 the Russians made their final moves. Armoured personnel carriers and tanks rolled down the main roads to Kabul to the Soviet Embassy, now clearly invasion HQ. There was limited resistance to the invasion as attacks and counter attacks by the Afghan army made little impression on the sophisticated Russian armour.
From the Arab News Newspaper, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
31 December 1980
By Adel Bishtawi
Arab News Correspondent
KABUL, Dec. 31 – Former President of Afghanistan Hafizulla Amin said he would firmly refuse to grant the Soviet Union any bases the country. Amin said that for their part, the Soviets have never asked for these, real I zing the Afghan negative feelings on the matter.
Amin made the statement in a last interview with Arab News before his death in the recent Soviet-inspired coup, which brought to power Babrak Karmal. “Afghanistan was a neutral country and the Soviets knew and respected this fact,” Amin said.
On Afghanistan’s friendship with the’ Soviet Union, Amin said the Soviet Union had offered all the help in its power to the revolutionary regime in Afghanistan and had asked for nothing in return. He emphasized the Soviets’ refusal to interfere in the country-s internal affairs.
Amin said that his government faced internal and external difficulties. -Many foreign countries were aiding the rebellion against the central authority; a vast propaganda campaign was being waged against the Afghan attempt to develop a socialist system which enables the country to rid itself of the tribalism and backwardness of the past,” he stated.
He claimed that his forces had made important gains against the rebels in the last two months, and denied that his enemies hold -about sixty per cent of the country.
He expressed his willingness to meet with Pakistani leaders to settle the question of Afghan refugees in that country.
Amin insisted that he respects the Islamic faith and denied that mosques have been forced to close down and religious leaders arrested. “The Afghans are proud of their Islamic religion, and Muslims enjoy complete religious freedom,” he added.
Amin expressed regret at the attitude of the Arab world toward the Afghan regime. He said his government ought to do more toward conveying to the Arab world the true nature of the problem in Afghanistan. “But the government was hampered by its lack of funds for any such concerted information drive.
From the Arab News Newspaper, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Thursday, Friday, January 3-4, 1980
THE sickle and the scimitar
By ADEL Bishtawi recently in Kabul
KABUL – Just before midnight, a powerful searchlight beams from a station on top of the highest hill to scan the curfew streets and hills surrounding Kabul in search of counter- revolutionaries, lackeys of imperialism, or guerrillas.
Occasionally, the searchlight shines on the Arg (the Citadel), or the People’s House, as it has come to be known since the bloody Marxist Revolution that overthrew Mohammed Daoud and the ruling family in April 1978. The guards there know somebody is watching over those who watch.
Over the houses of a million sleeping Kabulis, the beam is magnified by the clouds of dust and wood and kebab smoke that descend by late evening with the cold mist. At 7, feet, breathing is difficult; in the town centre, it is almost suffocating. The cloudy mixture stagnates, and the wind fails to clear it.
The people of Kabul have forgotten a similar searchlight in 1504 when a wandering Khan settled in Kabul. The story goes that Zuhair Eddin Mohammed, expelled from his kingdom near Samarkand by the army, ordered his followers to light huge fires on the hills before descending to occupy the city.
The king called himself Babur or the tiger, and ruled over the city for a long time before deciding to lead his army south to establish the Mughal Empire. It was true then, as now, that he who ruled Kabul ruled Afghanistan. Babur, of course, was a descendant of Tamerlane and of Genghis Khan.
This country is the “roundabout” of civilization. Its inhabitants have watched the armies of the greatest conquerors of the world march or flee toward the Khyber Pass: Alexander (the great), the Arabs, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Babur, the Persians and the British. But although their country has been conquered many times, the Afghans have never been conquered. (Its inhabitants have watched the armies of the greatest conquerors of the world march or flee to the Khyber Pass. Afghanistan has never been conquered.)
The name Afghanistan, land of Afghans, dates to 1747 when Durrat Al Durrar, pearl of pearls, escaped from the court of the Persian tyrant, Nadir Shah, and came to settle in the country. As Ahmad Shah Durrani, he paved the way for an independent state. He is best known as a possessor of what is now the brightest jewel in the British Crown, the Koh-i-noor. When fleeing Nadir’s camp, he’ took the jewel with him.
There are no statues of Babur or Durrani. The founder of the Mughal Empire is buried in the simplest of graves, but opposite the People’s House a strange statue has been erected; a Soviet tank, a symbol of the role played by the army in putting an end to the government of President Mohammed Daoud.
There are many other signs that remind the people of Kabul of the change. Red flags are everywhere, army and police patrols roam the streets after 11 p.m. when the curfew begins and tanks are stationed in and around the People’s House to draw attention to the new power: the red torch over Afghanistan and its multitude of races. They accepted Islam in the early 8th century but one group, the mountain men now known as Nuristanis, did not embrace the faith until 1896.
The 15 million Afghans are a mixture. The Pathans, also known as Pakhtunes or Pakhtans, constitute the largest single group in the country. They are very proud and regard themselves as the only true Afghans. They occupy the mountainous areas in the southeast, but they seem to rule Kabul itself.
Other groups are the Hazara, who inhabit central Afghanistan. They are short and slant-eyed and are supposed to be of Mongol descent. There are Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkomans. The main languages in Afghanistan are Pashto and a form of Persian.
Afghanistan is the largest tribal concentration in the world, and borders are seldom taken seriously. The tribesmen are more loyal to their chiefs than to any government.
The revolution in 1978 was met with opposition from large sections of these tribes. Fighting between tribesmen and government forces has been raging for the last 19 months. Each of the last three presidents of Afghanistan has promised, without success, to reach a peaceful solution.
The result of the fighting is that government forces are more than ever tied to the major cities and roads while the rebels control the countryside, or an estimated 60 per cent of Afghanistan. The continuation of the fighting has also led to violent changes of power.
Looking from a window in the Kabul Hotel at the People’s House, or the Arg, one almost smells the abattoir of Afghan politics. On April 27, 1978 more than 30 of President Mohammed Daoud’s family were killed. On Sept. 14, 1979 Hafizullah Amin launched an attack on the People’s House; President Nur Mohammed Taraki and his wife were killed. On Dec. 27, President Amin, his wife seven children, a brother, and a nephew were executed after yet another coup.
New faces come from the north. They bring vast quantities of Russian military hardware that is in great demand at present.
So is red paint.
Afghan bank notes were in such short supply that the government took desperate action to remedy the situation. After Daoud removed King Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1973, the newly proclaimed republic withheld the circulation of the 1,000 Afghan banknote carrying the picture of the king. Because of the shortage, the Marxist government recently released a large number of the withheld currency originally destined for destruction.
It is believed that Europeans living in Kabul before the revolution numbered several thousand. The government declared a clampdown on young people who used to come in search of cheap living and cheaper hashish. Hashish was so popular that private gardens were choked with cannabis. The haven of the young in Kabul, Chickens Street, is empty now. So are the hotels. Instead, scores of Russians can be seen at breakfast tables in hotels along with Vietnamese, Bulgarians and Yugoslavs.
The Europeans are leaving gradually and their number at present does not exceed 400 or 500. One European told me at a small party, – I am leaving Sunday but I shall not miss this country or its people.”
This might be the impression of Europeans living in the neighbourhood of Ali Akbar Khan (Kabul’s Mayfair). Most people enjoyed their time in Kabul before the revolution. A young foreigner commented sadly, “We really had a good time. At parties, the number of girls always exceeded that of men.”
But Kabul is a dry city. There is no nightlife and gatherings have to end around 10 p.m. because of t he curfew. For a Westerner Kabul has very little to offer.
There are only about 50 Arabs in Kabul. The majority of these are staff at the four embassies: the Saudi Arabian, Libyan, Egyptian and the Iraqi along with a recently opened office of the PLO. Iraq has the largest embassy staff (about 20) and a diplomat fluent in Persian leads the mission.
In addition, there are a very few Arab students, teachers from Saudi Arabia and until recently in the month of Ramadan, a small number of Egyptian Koran reciters. When relations between Cairo and Kabul were severed because of the treaty with Israel, the ambassador was recalled and so were the reciters.
The recitation of Marxist principles is now taking the place of the Koran. Bookshops are filled with Marxist and Soviet literature. Pamphlets painted in stark red are for sale on the pavements along with other books in Pashto and Persian. The rusty colour of Kabul is turning redder every day and with the summer and the scorching sun, all will soon turn rusty again.
Most of the Marxist literature dates to before World War. With the new literature, there is a new journalism for Afghanistan. Stock communist phrases are in the five dailies published in Kabul. One of the newspapers ran an editorial saying: “Our people are engaged in the building of their homeland with great joy and jubilation. Under the previous despotic regimes a minority group of spongers and agents of colonialism and imperialism used to play with the destinies of the toiling people.”
A grocer near the main square was astonished when he discovered I was an Arab. “From which Arab kingdom do you come?” he asked.
I found it difficult to explain to him that I was born in an occupied Arab territory – Palestine- so I said I came from Syria. ” Ah,” he said smiling, “the Kingdom of Syria, and does your king still live in the mosque?”
From the Arab News Newspaper, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Feature page (7)
Sunday, January 6, 1980
Land of the New- Model Revolution
By ADEL Bishtawi recently in Kabul
Kabul airport’s two large signs painted in stark red welcome the visitor to the “Land of the New-Model Revolution” in both English and Russian, but since the signs were hung 18 months ago Afghanistan has witnessed three bloody coups with each new leader proclaiming his predecessor a fascist and a murderer.
The most recent of these coups (December 27) involved about 15, Soviet troops airlifted three days before attacking the People’s House, the broadcasting station and other vital points in the capital. President Hafizullah Amin was captured and later executed along with several members of his family.
The new self-proclaimed president, Babrak Karmal, was brought into the country, just before the coup. He is known as head of Parcham (Flag) Party, which was abolished during the rule of the two former Presidents, Noor Mohammed Taraki and Amin.
There are no reports of the number of people killed during the recent coup but it is believed to be substantial since Amin kept very close links with the army officers. He was in charge of recruiting the in military in the Central Committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan which, along-side Parcham, staged the successful coup against former President Mohammed Daoud in April 1978.
That coup was a bloodbath, unlike the one staged by Daoud against the last Afghan king, Zahir Shah, in 1973. An estimated 3, people were killed In the Marxist coup of 1978 including 32 of Daoud’s family. Purges of the followers of the old regime continued and spread later to the members of Parcham. Babrak himself was in, late 1978, sent out of the Country’ as ambassador to Czechoslovakia before going underground when Amin toppled Taraki last September, just three days after Taraki’s return from a triumphant visit to Moscow on his way back from Havana where he attended the non-aligned conference.
Amin was the Prime Minister under Taraki, but on September 14 a shoot-out erupted at the People’s House, once known as the Royal Palace. And Taraki was killed.
One of the stories told about the incident claims that Taraki invited Amin to the People’s House to settle a dispute concerning the sacking by Amin of three army officers from the Cabinet loyal to the President. When Amin arrived with a few bodyguards, they were met with bullets.
Amin left the People’s House and returned the same night with a force of loyal followers and in the battle that followed Taraki was killed, or captured and executed later, while the three officers and dissidents from the ruling party took refugee in the Soviet Embassy and were shipped later to one of the Eastern Europe countries thought to be Bulgaria or Czechoslovakia. The same three officers flew back to Kabul after the last coup and have been appointed ministers in Karmal’s cabinet.
According to this story the former Soviet Ambassador, Alexander Busanov played a questionable role in the incident by personally asking Amin to come to the People’s House for talks with Taraki. He was recalled to Moscow and replaced by the new Ambassador, Tabev Fikrat Ahmadyanovich.
The shoot-out itself was ironic in many ways, because Amin was the only senior party member outside prison at a time when other leaders were about to be executed by President Daoud, and it was his swift action in ordering factions of the army against Daoud that saved the other part), leaders including Taraki and Karmal.
There are several other interpretations of what happened on the night of September 14 and party and government officials avoid answering questions on this point. Amin, himself, said that he had met Taraki a day before but not on the same day and that shots were fired at him at Taraki’s residence but killed instead Major Sayed Daoud Taron, acting president of the office of the Revolutionary Council, and one of those involved in staging the coup.
Another story told by sources close to both Western and Eastern circles in Kabul maintains that Taraki met alone with top Soviet leaders when he stopped over in Moscow. These sources believe that Amin’s future was discussed at this meeting, and both sides agreed that he should be eliminated.
It is not clear at this stage how both sides agreed to carry out the plan, but the sources
Indicated that Major Taron, and aide to Taraki, who kept Amin informed of what went on at the Presidential Palace, sent word o Amin of the forthcoming plan, and Amin stormed the Palace with his followers. Taraki was either killed or executed soon afterwards. During the shooting, Taron was killed by Taraki’s men when his role was uncovered.
Amin dismissed the recalling of the Soviet ambassador, Busanov, as a normal procedure since Busanov had been in Kabul for seven ears, but sources confirmed the important ole played by Busanov during the last few days of Taraki. One or two days after the hoot-out, several tanks were seen surrounding the Soviet Embassy, probably to thwart Amin’s demand to hand over the three military officers and some dissident Party members who had taken refuge there.
The sources point out that Amin was constant threat to Taraki. He had close links with the army and was involved in the recruiting of officers to the Party before the Revolution. His popular base was extremely limited. Taraki, on the other hand, had a relatively wider base at the party level, and from a fairly powerful tribe in the country.
After Taraki’s death, the Soviets had no alternative but to cooperate with Amin, and the latter, realizing that no single person can rule for long, tried to widen the influence of the party as a whole to avoid falling in the trap of personality cult with which Taraki had been accused.
Amin showed more caution than his predecessor in dealing with several issues including Islam. “We view Islam with reverence,” he told a visiting Journalist, “But religion should not be used for political designs”.
Still Amin conducted his affairs in a different way. When starting a speech he used the phrase, “In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful”. He toned down his ideas of social reforms to appease the Mullahs.
At the Government level, Amin tried to build the party, arranging courses for members, distributing membership cards to an estimated 50, people.
Afghans were not encouraged to think and the loudspeakers in the main square of Kabul broadcast lectures, the events of the party and Government, songs in Pashto, Farsi and Urdu, and occasionally parts of Beethoven’s Seventh. –
Amin lashed at the imperialists, Zionists and counter-revolutionaries exploiting illiterate Afghans.
“‘The enemies of our revolution never tell our people that our regime is a proletarian one believing in scientific socialism. They tell them that anyone reciting the Koran would get his tongue chopped off, or those who worship Gold will be executed, and that mosques are being demolished,” he said. Just before his death. Still, mosques in Kabul have not been demolished, nor have worshippers barred from praying, but the proposed constitution promises otherwise. Local newspapers carry party slogans. A favoured one says, “The (proposed) constitution of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan lays the foundation for a full-fledged dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Considering the high rate of illiteracy in Afghanistan, as well as the entrenched beliefs of the population, the task of Amin was colossal.
Karmal’s task is almost impossible.
To build the necessary support, Amin appealed to his countrymen. Popular committees were hurriedly formed, the latest of which were the Afghan youth Organization, and the National Organization for the Defence of the Revolution. Teachers, students, peasants and Government employees were recruited to form unions.
When I met Amin at his residence he did not try to play down the significance of the dangers he faced both internally and externally. Some of the internal difficulties stemmed from the very nature of the tribal system in Afghanistan where tribesmen have more loyalty to their chief than to any government in Kabul, let alone a Communist government -considered to be anti-Islam.
The change brought about military activities along the borders with Iran and Pakistan, and Amin himself forced to beef up his army both politically and militarily in the shortest period possible. The Soviets played a decisive role in the Amin government and in organizing his removal and execution.
From Emirates News Newspaper (Abu Dhabi, UAE), Thursday, April 9, 1981
And Gulf News Newspaper (Dubai, UAE), Thursday, April 9, 1981
London, April 8 (WAM): The defence of the Gulf is the responsibility of the Gulf states which are taking the steps to ensure peace and security in the Gulf both separately and jointly,” British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher said.
Mrs. Thatcher told six Arab journalists that she believes the Gulf Is making certain that it becomes more secure by virtue of the tremendous efforts that each and every one of the countries is making not only separately but also jointly.
Mrs Thatcher will start on April 19 a tour of the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman and Qatar before returning home on the April 26. Visits to Kuwait and Bahrain will be made next September.
In a wide-ranging press meeting at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s office and residence, Mrs Thatcher said that the, Rapid Deployment Force is not specifically with reference to the Gulf in any way, “one does not know where there might be trouble in the world,” she said.
“If the United States were to form a Rapid Deployment Force, then I think that we would wish to make a modest contribution which will be available for those people who wished to call upon it,” she told the journalists.
Questioned further on this controversial issue, Mrs Thatcher said that there is no question of a Rapid Deployment Force being stationed In the Gulf. “There never was. There would be no question of sending it If people did not wish it to go,” she said adding -that as there is no Rapid Deployment Force at present, there is nowhere to go. “If you have not got one, it could not go whatever the circumstances-or whatever the calls.”
The Prime Minister said that the Gulf is an extremely important place for the whole future of world peace and, stability and that the British government recognises that peace and stability are in the hands of the states in the area themselves. “We welcome their efforts to get together to ensure both aims,” she said in reference to the recently formed Gulf Cooperation Council.
On the occasion of her first visit to the four countries, Mrs. Thatcher said that the Middle East and other issues of importance would be discussed. What about the Rapid Deployment Force? “No”, the Prime Minister answered, “because there is no Rapid Deployment Force at the moment.”
Mrs Thatcher was asked whether the idea to contribute to Rapid Deployment Force is a reversal of the East of Suez policy that Britain has taken after the withdrawal from the, Gulf in 1971. “No,” she answered. “I find it difficult to know why you ask that question.”
Mrs Thatcher said that there is no justification for the alarm expressed by some at her statements made during her recent visit to Washington in reference to the Gulf. Asked whether her government would consider a decision by the United States to store or install nuclear arms at the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, she replied that such a thing would be a matter of consultation. “Everything that is done there (at Diego Garcia) is a matter for consultation. They do not take such steps without consulting us,” she added.
Mrs. Thatcher expressed the opinion that the Arab-Israeli problem and the situation In the Gulf are not wholly unrelated. “I do not know if there is any point in trying to say one is more Important than the other. Both are problems,” she said.
Mrs Thatcher said that although the Camp David accords did not meet with universal acclaim among other countries, they did lead at least to some territory being returned to Egypt.
“The problem now is how best to continue the process of solving the Middle East problem and It is quite clear that the United States has not decided the best way to continue the process and to carry it forward, and it is equally clear that the U.S. wishes to consult other people before they decide how best to go ahead. Haig is in the Middle East now with a view to seeing for himself before he and the President decide how best the process can be taken further ahead.”
Lord Carrington, Britain’s Foreign Secretary will be President of the Foreign Ministers Council of the EEC next July, but very little Is expected to happen in the near future regarding the Middle East problem. “We are not likely to make very great strides before the Israeli elections (end of July),” Mrs Thatcher said.
The Prime Minister said that the EEC countries are trying to sort out some of the things which needs to be done, and Foreign Ministers from Europe have been going round consulting with the various states concerned to see how they would interpret some of the phrases and clauses that are used when referring to the Middle East problems.
Asked how much influence Britain can exercise on the U.S. in changing Its opinion regarding Israel, she said that everyone recognises that there will be no solution to the Arab-Israeli problem without the U.S., but no settlement can be reached without the Israelis recognising the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people and the Palestinians recognising Israel’s right to live behind secure borders.
Mrs. Thatcher admitted that a final solution is not in sight, although Europe has been pursuing various avenues of approach. “We cannot see I clear way ahead until we have had discussions with the U.S. about the way in which they would like to proceed and I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that the U.S. will be influenced by what we say, ” she said.
In regard to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mrs. Thatcher said, “Recognition” to us means countries. “We do not, I must tell you, recognise the PLO. We talk to Palestinians and that is the right way.” Admitting that British officials have talked to the PLO but not on a ministerial level. She said: “I think the reason, of which you will he aware, will be their contacts with terrorism.”
Arab News Newspaper (Jeddah), Thursday 16 June 1979
Sharq Al Awsat Newspaper (London)
Thursday 16 June 1979
UK Conservative see a more active role in the Middle East
By Adel Bishtawi and Nigel Harvey
LONDON- Britain’s new Conservative government sees a more active role in the Middle East for itself and the European Community. And while encouraging the peace process it is taking a harder line on Israeli expansionism and is accepting its commitment to a liberated Jerusalem under U.N. resolution 242.
“That is certainly an important element in the discussions and we support 242 which covers it,” British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Douglas Hurd told “Arab News.”
Hurd is responsible for his ministry’s Middle East section and will be the architect of the new government’s policy.
“We believe that if Europe can increasingly speak with one voice then our influence is greater,” said Hurd pointing to last week’s EEC foreign ministers’ -quite strong” resolutions criticizing Israeli settlements policy on the West Batik and involvement in-south Lebanon. Britain, he said, considered these “wrong” and “unhelpful.”
He said the Camp David achievement “although imperfect, is worth preserving and should not be destroyed. We want to encourage the autonomy talks. Because we believe that if there were to be, and it’s a big if, genuine autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank, then that would be another important step forward.”
“Don’t let’s spit on the only thing which is actually happening,” he added. “Increased flexibility” after Camp David,” he said, “should be used to obtain an eventual settlement against the alternative of another ‘no winners’ war.”
“We understand the criticisms of President Sadat,” he said, “and would be worried if we thought there was a permanent gape open there. So we will do what we can alone, but also with our fellow Europeans, to play a useful part in widening out, and in improving, these discussions.
41 We will work closely with our Arab friends particularly traditional friends like the Saudi government in the hope that we can play a useful, perhaps more prominent, part than we have been able to.” Initially, at least, this activity will be purely diplomatic, said Hurd.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government has quickly established contact with Middle Eastern leaders.
Since their overwhelming election victory visitors have already included Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh, Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel, King Hussein of Jordan and Vice President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Britain’s Conservatives have traditionally been considered more understanding to the Arabs than their Labour rivals, who had Labour movement connections with Israel. Though there has been no head on policy clash and consequently no “sudden turn of policy when the Conservatives take over,” said Hurd, the party has ” a considerable body of experience” through various members’ personal relationships with the Middle East.
Not least among these is the Foreign Secretary, I-lord Carrington, himself. He made an extensive tour of the Middle East that included a meeting with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, His spokesman in the House of Commons, Sir Ian Gilmour, was a founder member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding.
Like most of his cabinet colleagues, Hurd, 49, was educated at Eton and Oxbridge before joining the Foreign Office, with which he served in Peking, the U.N. and Rome. He was
Prime minister Ted Heath’s private secretary in the last Tory government and opposition spokesman on Europe for Mrs. Thatcher.
The Conservatives are undoubtedly more Europe oriented than their predecessors but it remains to be seen how far this will draw them from Britain’s traditionally conservative and pro-American role in the EEC on Middle East questions.
After last week’s EEC resolution, the next step could be official recognition of the PLO that is favoured by many of the foreign ministers. Hurd said: ” We are considering our own attitudes but there is a difficulty insofar as there’s been no clear statement from the PLO about the existence of Israel.”
But he refused to be drawn on a trade off between recognition of the PLO for their recognition of Security Council Resolution 242 that acknowledges Israel’s right to -exist.
However, he stipulated a Palestinian ” land” and negotiations involvement as necessary for a settlement. “We use the word land, just as the French use the word patrie, because it is in a way rather neutral. It conveys the feeling that there are people who have rights over land, over water and over their own political future which have to be respected.” He felt the details should be left to the debating process between those involved.
Britain’s Middle East policy, said Hurd, is based on three cards of entry: past connections, a good relationship with the U.S. and the “new element” of growing European cooperation. The last two may with time conflict as Europe establishes policies of its own. The unprecedented statements on Israel tire running besides conflict on the EEC commission’s refusal to move offices from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem under threat of losing diplomatic privileges.
Pointing to the ” stuck” Euro- Arab dialogue and difficulties within the ” adolescent” European political institution of gaining agreement Hurd feels strong unity is distant.
“If the situation changed, and the present talks were coming to nothing then we in Europe would have to think again very carefully from the beginning what our role should be and whether we could take some further initiative,” he said.
” But obviously that is something we would want to discuss with the Saudi government and all friendly governments before we do it.”
Hurd stressed the importance of close contact with Saudi Arabia on oil and world economic issues as well as the general Middle East situation and the consequences of the Iranian revolution. Our doors are open,” he said hoping for further two-way visits.
Apart from this broader bilateral dialogue – and Hurd excluded a European context as yet – which started with Prince Salman’s visit, there is a continual discussion on the future of the Arab Industries Organization disbanded after the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The British military industry was to be deeply involved with Egyptian-based factories for helicopters and missiles. “It’s in difficulty, but we don’t despair of finding an answer which is reasonably satisfactory,” said Hurd.
Gulf security, said Hurd was no longer a British concern though close friendships were retained. He said there was no vacuum and the security of the Gulf and its governments depended on their own policies. “The Shah was not after all overthrown by outside armies,” he added. But he said that Oman, which has around 600 British officers some on secondment, was a “special case.”