Thatcher Defends Role Amid Heated Criticism
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher today defended the U.S. bombing raid against Libya and said it was inconceivable she would have refused Washington permission to use its British-based bombers.
“If one always refuses to take any risks because of the consequences, then the terrorist governments will win and one can only cringe before them,” she told a tense House of Commons.
At times shouting to make herself heard above the jeers of opponents, the Conservative leader said that in attacking Libya, the United States was acting within its rights of self-defense under the U.N. Charter.
Thatcher said she had independent evidence that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi was responsible for terrorist attacks and planned new ones.
Charges of Endangerment
Socialist and centrist foes accused her of endangering Britain, damaging the West European alliance and bolstering Kadafi by associating herself with the U.S. raid in giving permission for the use of British-based U.S. F-111 fighter-bombers.
The exchanges underlined Thatcher’s isolation as condemnations of the raid poured in from most other U.S. West European allies. France and Spain had refused to let the British-based jets fly over their territories on their way to Libya.
Declaring that America has about 333,000 troops based in Western Europe “to defend our freedom,” Thatcher told Commons:
“It is inconceivable that (the Americans) should be refused the right to use American pilots and American aircraft . . . to defend their own people.”
Opposition leaders this morning lambasted Thatcher for going along with the attack, and her Cabinet went into an emergency meeting, after which it said it backed the prime minister fully.
But Denis Healey, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman, accused Thatcher of “groveling subservience” to President Reagan.
‘Will Provoke Terrorism’
Neil Kinnock, leader of the main socialist opposition Labor Party, said the bombing “will provoke rather than prevent terrorism.”
David Owen, leader of the centrist Social Democratic Party, acknowledged that Thatcher had faced a tough decision and was probably influenced by U.S. support for Britain during the 1982 Falkland Islands war against Argentina.
But Owen said Thatcher was wrong to give America the go-ahead to use the British-based U.S. warplanes.
At London’s Heathrow Airport, armed police patrolled terminals as security was stepped up against a possible Libyan reprisal.