[Page 739]

361. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • President’s Meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Haig
  • National Security Affairs Advisor William P. Clark
  • NSC Senior Staff Member James Rentschler
  • Prime Minister Thatcher
  • British Ambassador to the United States Sir Nicholas Henderson
  • Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Clive Whitmore
  • Undersecretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Defense Affairs David Gilmore
  • Private Assistant to the Prime Minister Coles

[Omitted here is discussion of issues unrelated to the situation in the South Atlantic.]

Turning to the Falklands, Mrs. Thatcher described the situation which the U.K. faced with the Argentine POWs. There were 10,000 of these, many of them in very bad condition. Argentine military tradition was apparently much different from that of the U.K. or the U.S. in that the officers had very little concern for the troops under their command. The Argentine officers were all sleek and well-fed but had treated their men abominably. Indeed, it was necessary for the British troops to allow the officers to keep their side arms so that they would not be attacked by their own troops. Dysentery, trench foot, and parasites were among the afflictions which the Argentine POWs had to suffer. Their own military medics had given them very poor treatment and during the hostilities at Goose Green had not even cut away the bad gangrenous flesh which some of the victims had. Mrs. Thatcher added that she had told Galtieri that the U.K. wanted to lift sanctions, end the exclusion zone, and send back Argentina’s troops, but as yet there had been no reply. In response to the President’s question, Mrs. Thatcher said there was no confirmation of the story that some of the Argentine troops had shot themselves through the feet so that they could surrender. She said that the British are holding 600 officers, pilots, [Page 740]and engineers, and hope to get an explicit message from the Argentines indicating that hostilities are formally over in the South Atlantic. Mrs. Thatcher went on to say that the British were experiencing great difficulty with the plastic mines which the Argentines had sown around the Islands, apparently without leaving any maps to pinpoint their location. There was also evidence that the Navy and the Army had worked at cross purposes while setting up their mine fields. (C)

The President recalled that during World War II we had a kind of bulldozer with a raised blade which had proved useful in clearing terrain of mines. (U)

Secretary Haig agreed and asserted that there are all kinds of specialized equipment at Fort Belvoir for the specific purpose of mine-clearing operations. (C)

The President offered to provide assistance to the British with whatever equipment we could make available. He jocularly recalled that in times past mules were used on mine fields, but the animals were very canny and never detonated any of the mines, although it often happened that the troops marching directly in their footprints did so. (U)

Secretary Haig noted that the Vietnamese customarily sent their prisoners into mine fields. (U)

Ambassador Henderson said that the Russian practice was to use their own men. (U)

Mrs. Thatcher laughingly suggested that she would use the Falkland sheep for that purpose. (U)

In a more serious vein, the President noted the change of government that appeared to be taking place in Argentina and suggested that it was a development which might make it easier for Mrs. Thatcher to resolve, on a definitive basis, the situation in the South Atlantic. He said that he assumed that Mrs. Thatcher wanted a peace which did not have the British standing guard duty indefinitely so far from home. (C)

Mrs. Thatcher replied that the British would likely be in the Falklands for a very long time. The British had been caught napping once, but they would not be caught a second time. She asserted that her government is sending back Rex Hunt very soon as civil commissioner. The two priorities in the Islands now are rehabilitation and reconstruction; at some point, it might be desirable to bring the Falklands into a self-governing status, similar perhaps to the formula the U.S. worked out on Guam. She added that she and her government will do everything they can to restore normal relations with Latin American countries—“we will have to be gentle.” Mrs. Thatcher noted that with the exception of Argentina, all British ambassadors remain at their posts.

[Omitted here is discussion of issues unrelated to the situation in the South Atlantic.]

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, United Kingdom (04/26/1982–09/29/1982) [Too Late to File]. Secret. The meeting took place in the Oval Office.