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Visit of Prime Minister Thatcher of the United Kingdom Toasts at the State Dinner.

December 17, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. As you all know, England is one of the first nations on Earth, perhaps the first, to have a woman as ruler of the country, and we are very honored tonight to have the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who's a distinguished guest. She's able to share the responsibilities for the United Kingdom with the Queen. Unfortunately, the President of the United States has to do both. [Laughter]

One of the ceremonial duties of every President when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, comes here, is to remind him or her that the British burned this house in 1812. [Laughter] Fortunately, we had a very lively woman who lived here then, Dolley Madison, who unrolled these portraits of George Washington and his wife, Martha, took them out beyond the Potomac River, and saved them. And George Washington returned to the White House, in his portrait, after the war was over. I hope that after the visit of this British entourage that the present President might be able to return to the White House after the next election year. [Laughter] But I can't make any predictions about that.

I've had a chance today to meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and I met her earlier when she visited this country before she was Prime Minister. And I met with her in some very intense economic and energy discussions and talked about the interrelationship among the democratic developed nations of the Earth in Tokyo early this year. I've been very highly impressed with her. Charles Dickens said in "The Pickwick Papers," "She knows what's what, she does." [Laughter] And I think this very accurately describes the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Today we talked about strategic arms limitation talks, the control of conventional weapons, the deployment of theater nuclear forces in Europe, the strengthening of the Atlantic Alliance, the European Community and how those nations interrelate one with another, the problems in Rhodesia. And I want officially to congratulate her and Lord Carrington for the tremendous achievement that was announced today when the Patriotic Front initialed the agreement on which you've worked so successfully, and I want to congratulate you both.

This shows what the yearning for peace and freedom can do, when given an opportunity by a distinguished and strong and courageous leader and a diplomat who knows the sensitivities of others and who honors those sensitivities in a strong and forceful way. It's indeed a triumph, and we are grateful to be part of the announcement today.

We talked about the future of Namibia, which I think will be greatly enhanced by the achievement of the recent days. We talked about the refugees, not only in Indochina but around the world, the unfortunate people, and the need for the developed democratic nations on Earth, who've been blessed so greatly, to give them a better life, some alleviation of their suffering, some hope for the future.

We talked about the intricate problems of energy, of nations who are great energy producers, and nations who are great, perhaps excessive, energy consumers. We talked about the domestic problems of inflation and providing jobs for our people. We talked about international trade and how this might draw nations closer together and to transcend international borders.

We talked about terrorism, the harming of innocent people to achieve political goals which quite often, most often, are indeed unworthy. She is dealing on a daily basis with terrorism in Northern Ireland. We stand staunchly beside her in condemning bloodshed and violence, death and murder, and I hope that our country will always be an assistant to her and to the leaders of Great Britain in dealing with this threat to peace and freedom and the proper interrelationship of human beings.

We talked about Iran and another exhibition of international terrorism, where innocent people are being persecuted, held prisoner, threatened with their very lives for the achievement of unworthy political goals.

We talked about many other issues that are important to our people. But the overwhelming sense that I had was one that we constantly share responsibilities and opportunities, both now, in the future, and in the past. The ties that bind the people of Great Britain with those of the United States are so strong that nothing can sever them one from another.

We are a nation, as I said this morning, of diverse nationalities. Perhaps the most diverse constituency in the world is the one that I have. People from all over this Earth came here to live. But we have a special relationship with Great Britain, our mother country. Walt Whitman, who perhaps more than any other American poet represented what Americans see and feel and believe, said, "I hear the running of the Thames River in my speech." Perhaps you can't hear the running of the Thames River in my speech since I'm a Georgian— [laughter] —but I don't think anyone can escape who lives here-whether we're from the South or the North, whether our ancestors came from England or Ireland or Poland or from China or from Japan or from the Philippines—we have part of England in us, because the principles on which our Nation was rounded, our deep concepts of freedom and individuality, of democratic government originated in our mother country.

We are very honored to have Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as our guest, and we would like to pay tribute now to her, to her nation, and to the United Kingdom. And I would like to propose a toast to Her Majesty the Queen. To the Queen.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, ladies and gentlemen:

It has been my first visit to Washington as head of the British Government, and I should like, at the end of a memorable day, to say thank you. Thank you, to you, Mr. President, to you, Mrs. Carter, and through you to the American people for the wonderfully warm welcome I've been given everywhere.

I know, Mr. President, that as you pointed out at the beginning of your speech, the relationship between America and Britain started off with one or two errors of judgment on our side. [Laughter] Looking around me at the beauty here and at the wonderful nation you've created, I'm really rather glad that my predecessors weren't successful in all things they tried to carry out.

Now, I know that official visits to Washington recur' almost with the regularity of the passing seasons, but as far as I'm concerned, this really has been an exceptional event in the year for me. Alas, I'll not be staying long, but it makes a great difference to me to have this chance of direct discussion and to sense at first hand what it is that quickens the pulse of the American people, their yearnings and preoccupations.

I'm very much aware, Mr. President, of the ordeal that the United States is going through at the moment. It's a double ordeal, for the fate of the 50 hostages in Tehran, from whom our thoughts are never far, and for the temper of the United States as a whole. You'll not want me to speak at length about this now, but I'd be giving you a false impression if I allowed the evening to proceed any further without letting you know how much we, in Britain, support you in your ordeal at this time.

The United States is our friend, our ally, and our time-honored partner in peace and war. The history and the destiny of our countries have been and always will be inextricably intertwined. Our friendship goes back a very long way. We are, after all, among the very few countries in the world whose constitutions and national identities have remained intact over two centuries. I hope you won't mind, Mr. President, my recalling that George Washington was a British subject until well after his 40th birthday. [Laughter] I've been told, to my surprise, that he does not have a place in the British Dictionary of National Biography. I suppose the editors must have regarded him as a late developer. [Laughter]

I confess to you that in some ways my visit got off to rather a shaky start, because I was told on arrival at Andrews Field that I had interrupted your Secretary of State, Mr. Vance, in one of his few moments of relaxation. He was watching the Redskins playing the Cowboys. [Laughter] He had to take his eye off the game to greet me. I'm very grateful, but I don't think the Redskins can have been very grateful to me, because it was no doubt as a result of this diversion of Mr. Vance's attention that the Redskins lost the game. I do apologize for having intervened in your internal affairs. [Laughter]

Mr. Vance's opposite number, Lord Carrington, who's with us this evening, has, as you know—and as you very kindly said, Mr. President—had something of a triumph in the Rhodesia negotiations at Lancaster House in London. If you think he looks a little pale, it's because he's been shut up in Lancaster House for many months, indeed has become known as the prisoner of Lancaster House. And he's so pleased to be free at last.

Lord Carrington would, I know, want me to repeat this evening how grateful the British Government are to the United States authorities for the stalwart support they've given us unfailingly over Rhodesia. And you, Mr. President, and you, Mr. Vance, we would like to give our warmest and most heartfelt thanks, because without your support the whole process would have been incomparably more difficult, and we may never have reached success.

May I say one more thing, Mr. President. The government which I lead has been in power now for just over half a year. We face great difficulties, some of them deep-seated and longstanding and some stemming from beyond our shores-and I don't pretend that anything is going to be remedied immediately. But we are determined upon a change. We're determined to return to the first principles which have traditionally governed our political and economic life, namely. the overall responsibility of the individual rather than the state for his own welfare, and the paramountcy of Parliament for the protection of fundamental rights.

The government I lead has a resounding mandate to restore the faith and the fortunes of the nation. We shall stick at the task whatever the difficulties and however great the endurance required. And we shall do so, Mr. President, in the conviction that our allies across the Atlantic have confidence in us, just as we have confidence in the strength and ingenuity of the United States to meet any challenge and triumph over any adversity that confronts them.

And it's in that spirit that I would like to ask all your other guests this evening to drink a toast to you, the President of the United States of America.

The President.

Note: The President spoke at 7: 50 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Visit of Prime Minister Thatcher of the United Kingdom Toasts at the State Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248332

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