Thatcher has mixed times at summit

By JOHN BILOTTA  |  July 16, 1989
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PARIS -- For Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, caught in a controversy with France over national pride, the economic summit in Paris was the best of times and the worst of times.

Leaders of the world's seven major industrial democracies ended their summit Sunday after agreeing on a communique that focused as much on environmental and drug issues as on the economy.

Thatcher said Sunday her French hosts had not affronted her diplomatically, nor was French President Francois Mitterrand insulted when she discounted the importance of France -- and the French Revolution 200 years ago -- to the development of human rights.

'I haven't suffered any diplomatic slights of any kind whatsoever,' Thatcher said in response to a question at the conclusion of the seven-nation summit gathering.

'I haven't had anything which could even remotely be termed a slight. Indeed, I've had every attention.'

She looked at the reporter and added, 'You look very disappointed.'

The British and French press have made much of Thatcher's alleged slur of France's history, her seating position at formal events, and the misplacement of the credential applications for the British delegation.

In another move some perceived as a blow to Franco-British friendship, Thatcher gave Mitterrand an original 1859 copy of Charles Dickens's novel 'A Tale of Two Cities.'

The novel -- with the famous opening lines, 'It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; ...' -- describes the violence in Paris under the regime of the Terror from March 1792 to August 1794 while London was peaceful and prosperous.

The Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper which usually supports Thatcher's ruling Conservative Party, noted how the prime minister 'was hissed and booed' at her first appearance Thursday in Paris.

Thatcher said on French television last week that the French Revolution did not yield the first documents on human rights, and she pointed out the heavy British contribution to that element of Western heritage.

She reiterated Sunday that Britain's 'Magna Carta,' the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the Bible's Ten Commandments all pre-date 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,' which resulted from the French Revolution.

'I think Mr. Mitterand was very generous in accepting that there were other nations' that laid the groundwork for human rights, she said.

For his part, Mitterrand carefully played down Thatcher's slight to the French as they started the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison July 14, 1789.

But while he kept out of the dispute, and the Bastille celebrations and the summit had overshadowed it by the weekend, French Prime Minister Michel Rocard got in his own lick at Thatcher in an interview with British television.

He praised Britain for upholding democracy and respecting the individual, but added he was 'concerned about the British government's current trend toward social cruelty, which I fear may damage the relationship between Britain's different social classes and regions and in time possibly even the very quality of Britain's political democracy.'

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