The Iron Lady All For the Iron Curtain

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants to improve the reputation of the British during this key period in German history. The new documents reveal that Foreign Ministry diplomats were considerably more farsighted than Thatcher, who was led by her gut reaction against Germany.

The long-secret papers show that the British government played a far more constructive role in German reunification than had been previously thought. Only one person had serious doubts about the change: Margaret Thatcher.

Deep-Seated Suspicion

But even the Iron Lady gradually gave up her resistance to reunification when the framework for the Two-Plus-Four Agreement was drawn up, paving the way for the two states to merge. After a meeting in Chequers, Thatcher's country residence, on January 27, Foreign Minister Hurd noted a slight softening in her position. "Usual diatribe against German selfishness," Hurd noted in his diary, "but the hankering to stop unification now comes less often, and we are into 'transition' and reducing the British Army of the Rhine."

According to a note believed to be penned by Thatcher or Powell, Hurd voiced a warning to the prime minister on February 23: "The Foreign Secretary said we must not appear to be a brake on everything. Rather we should come forward with some positive ideas of our own," the note said. The authors of the book write of the Foreign Ministry's "war of attrition," which Thatcher slowly wound down.

The fact that France, the Soviet Union and the United States supported German reunification also had an impact on her stance. Gradually Thatcher moved into the German political mainstream -- but she never lost her deep-seated suspicion of the Germans.

For example, in March 1990, she invited historians and politicians to a discussion at Chequers to address the question: "How dangerous are the Germans?" At the end of the seminar, her adviser Powell noted that they reached unanimous agreement that "we should be nice to the Germans."

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