RN, PN, Prime Minister Heath, and Queen Elizabeth II gather for a photo in front of Chequers
By Chris Barber
On President Nixon’s second state visit to Europe, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom hosted him, as is customary at Chequers, for discussions on international affairs affecting both parties. Chequers, bequeathed to the nation in 1917 by Sir Arthur Lee, acts as the British Prime Minister’s country retreat and as the regular hosting venue for visiting world leaders and celebrities.
Recently, the Queen of England’s visit to Chequers broke into U.K. news headlines as it was Her Majesty’s second such visit in nearly two decades. Prime Minister David Cameron was urged to invite the Queen because he had discovered photographs of an earlier visit the Queen had made to Chequers in 1970, when President Nixon had also visited.
In fact, it was on that day, October 3, 1970 that the Queen of England made her first ever visit to the grace-and-favor country retreat upon Prime Minister Edward Heath’s invitation.
Though the Queen’s presence was certainly a rarity (Her Majesty has only visited Chequers on two occasions since then), the importance of October 3, 1970 rested on President Nixon’s conversations with Prime Minister Heath.
At the time, Heath had four months prior won the general election, and as the new head of state to one of the United States’ more trusted allies, President Nixon sought to impress upon the new leader of the U.K. a type of communication built on trust and cooperation. In a declassified memorandum of conversation, it was transcribed that “the President began the conversation by saying that at the outset he wanted to establish a close personal communication.
President Nixon shared the reason for this type of relationship, that “the need for communication has never been greater. We will continue to face major problems in the Middle East. SALT is quite undetermined. Tell us where you disagree. We will feel free to ask you advice. We do not want to be the only country making foreign policy.”
The candid—and quite blunt—opening statements set the stage for discussions regarding the many foreign policy areas concerning U.K. and U.S. interests. Though to a large part the conversations covered areas of the world outside of Europe, the central concern was how the Soviet Union responded to outside occurrences.
The party discussed the situation in the Middle East following the death of President Nasser of Egypt. President Nixon acknowledged that the major problem in the Middle East “far transcends the Arab-Israeli dispute.” State stability in the Middle East was quickly deteriorating and a successful settlement between Israel and the major Arab states appeared a fantasy given the circumstances. It would be critical, as time went on, that the U.K. and U.S. cooperate in their efforts to expedite the reduction of tensions in the Middle East. After all, as President Nixon said, “the Soviet’s want the fruit of confrontation without confrontation.”
The President also discussed the situation in Southeast Asia, as the proper handling of America’s involvement was important to whether or not the Soviet Union would reinstate its European policy of military intervention and forced subservience to Eastern European states.
Prime Minister Heath, referring then to South Africa and the Simonstown Agreement, argued that the agreement should be kept intact insofar as the British presence in South Africa continued to help deter the Soviet buildup in the Indian Ocean.
The discussion then turned finally to the Soviet Union itself. It was likely that the Soviets were constructing a submarine base at Cienfuegos of Cuba. Addressing this concern, President Nixon believed that the Soviets did not want a confrontation but if Cienfuegos becomes a nuclear submarine installation, then the United States would have to “stand up” and “we would have a missile crisis.”
View the transcript of the entire conversation below.