British archives reveal Ozal, Thatcher meeting details

Declassified files show UK, Turkish leaders discussed Cyprus, NATO, Yugoslavia during 1990 meeting in Turkey

By Busra Akin Dincer


Newly declassified British documents have revealed how a 1990 meeting between former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Turkey’s then president, Turgut Ozal, saw the two leaders discuss NATO, Cyprus, German re-unification and instability in Yugoslavia.

The British National Archives this week released files from the U.K. Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office covering the years 1989 and 1990.

Details of a meeting between the two leaders in 1990, after a WWI remembrance ceremony at Gelibolu (Gallipoli) in Turkey, have come to light.

In a confidential memorandum of their meeting on 25 April 1990, Thatcher emphasized the importance of NATO for the security and defense of the West, drawing attention to increasing aggression of the Soviet Union -- which would collapse just over 18 months later.

Ozal said new problems could be experienced in the Balkans and said Yugoslavia was beginning to disintegrate.

Turkey's president also said the Soviets had been “unjustifiably severe” in their treatment of Azerbaijan.

The archives include remarks from the Turkish president that he did not believe “[the] Russian empire should continue in the long term”.

Cyprus was also among the topics discussed. In the archives it is stated that Thatcher held Northern Cyprus President Rauf Denktas responsible for a failure of peace negotiations.

Ozal asks why Thatcher did not meet Denktas. The memo records: “The Prime Minister said she had no aspirations to be a mediator,” and “help the United Nations Secretary General find a solution before the end of his term office.” Ozal noted that “she ought to hear the other side of the story”.

In the files Ozal was described as “short, rotund and friendly.”

“Since his elevation to the Presidency, Ozal has kept a firm hand on the reins of the government,” the files read and continued: “He has already made it clear that he intends to play an active part in shaping policy, despite the constitutional requirement that the president remain apolitical.”

Ozal’s eldest son, Ahmet, was described as “his unofficial chief of staff”.

The British records were somewhat less flattering about the then prime minister of Turkey, Yildirim Akbulut, who was described as “loyal but ineffectual”.

Akbulut was “reasonably popular” within his Motherland Party but not “widely respected”. He was described by British officials as an “intellectual lightweight,” with little knowledge of economics or foreign policy.