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Newly Released Tape Captures Reagan Apology To Margaret Thatcher


Now a rare presidential apology that we can all hear, 31 years later.


MARGARET THATCHER: Hello, Margaret Thatcher here.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: If I were there, Margaret, I'd throw my hat in the door before I came in.

SIEGEL: The caller was President Ronald Reagan, of course. It was October 1983 and he had just sent U.S. troops to the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada to overthrow a left-wing government that had taken over in a coup. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was on the other end of this call. Grenada was a Commonwealth member country. Britain had not been informed in advance. Why not?


REAGAN: We've had a nagging problem of a loose source - a leak here.

SIEGEL: This recording was just released by the Reagan Library in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit. It goes on for 10 minutes actually. Journalist and author James Mann has been writing about U.S. foreign policy and American presidents for decades and joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

JAMES MANN: Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And in style and or substance, what do you make of this audible glimpse of President Ronald Reagan working the phones after the fact?

MANN: Well, in the first place of course, it shows the very close ties between Reagan and Thatcher, which dated back to before either of them was in office. They had developed a friendship when they were out of office opposition politicians in the 1970s. On the other hand, usually when we get tapes - and I didn't know that there were tapes of Reagan's conversations, these are from "The Situation Room" - usually the tapes give us the nitty-gritty that is concealed in public.

I think this one is the reverse. What was actually going on is that Thatcher and the British government were furious at Reagan and Reagan was disappointed that they were mad so there was a genuine, if short-term, disagreement between them and this tape is essentially the make-up by Reagan to maintain that relationship.

SIEGEL: But the explanation that they had to rush the invasion of Grenada because there was going to be a leak, do you believe that story or was that an excuse for not having to tell Margaret Thatcher in advance she might have disapproved of it publicly?

MANN: I think that's right. I don't know that there's any evidence of a leak. The invasion of Grenada, it's worth pointing out, came within 48 hours of a major foreign policy defeat for the United States on the other side of the world, which was the bombing of the American barracks in Beirut. So some cynics now and at the time think that maybe the action in Grenada was in part launched to defuse or divert attention away from those events in Beirut.

SIEGEL: In this particular conversation, as you say Thatcher was - she was furious at not having been in on it, supposedly? That was the story.

Here's the end of the conversation between Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Listen to this.


REAGAN: Well, as I say, I'm sorry for any embarrassment we caused you, but please understand it was just our fear of our own weakness over here with regard to secrecy.

THATCHER: That's very kind of you to have rung, Ronald.

REAGAN: My pleasure.

THATCHER: I appreciate it. How is Nancy?

REAGAN: Just fine.

THATCHER: Good. Give her my love.

REAGAN: I shall. All right.

THATCHER: Thank you very much. I must return to this debate in the House, it's a bit tricky.

REAGAN: Oh. Well, all right. Go get 'em. Eat 'em alive.


REAGAN: All right. Bye.

MANN: Yes, Thatcher says, got to go, got to go. It's worth noting that at the time, Thatcher was under attack in the House of Commons for being Ronald Reagan's poodle.

SIEGEL: So Margaret Thatcher could've left this phone conversation and gone back and told members of her conservative cabinet, an abject and apologetic Ronnie Reagan just called me up and he completely apologized.

MANN: I can see Thatcher saying that.

SIEGEL: Well, Jim Mann, thanks for talking with us today about it.

MANN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: James Mann, the author of - among many other books - "The Rebellion Of Ronald Reagan: A History Of The End Of The Cold War" and most recently of "The Obamians." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.