Shortly before her weekend visit to Vancouver’s Expo 86 and a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at Montreal’s Mirabel Airport, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave a series of interviews to Canadian reporters in London. In each encounter she delivered the same emphatic message: Britain would not support economic sanctions against white-ruled South Africa. Sanctions, she insisted, would only cause further suffering for the country’s blacks. Asked Thatcher in her Toronto Star interview: “What is moral about adding to poverty and unemployment in a country that has no social security?”
The message was aimed as much at Mulroney, in advance of her scheduled Sunday meeting with him, as the Canadian public. The Canadian Prime Minister has been encouraged by some other Commonwealth leaders, notably Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda, to urge Thatcher to impose sanctions against South Africa as part of a joint Commonwealth campaign against the apartheid system of racial segregation. Britain is the only one of the 49 Commonwealth countries to officially oppose sanctions, and Kaunda, in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail last week, said that he believes Mulroney is the only Commonwealth leader capable of changing Thatcher’s mind.
The issue is expected to come to a head at a London meeting from Aug. 3 to 5 when Thatcher, Mulroney and five other Commonwealth leaders discuss ways of jointly putting pressure on the South African government to abandon apartheid. At stake is not just South Africa’s fate but the future of the Commonwealth itself. Some black African countries have threatened to leave the Commonwealth if Britain refuses to impose sanctions. Mulroney’s goal at the weekend meeting with Thatcher, an aide told Maclean's, was to “read her mind” and determine if there was any flexibility in the British position. The chances of forging a compromise in London appeared slim, but if Mulroney could do so it would be a major triumph. Said the aide: “This is one of the biggest diplomatic challenges a Canadian prime minister can face.”
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