Papers: Brits courted Reagan despite faux pas over queen

2012-12-29T00:00:00Z Papers: Brits courted Reagan despite faux pas over queenThe Associated Press The Associated Press
December 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

LONDON - Few people keep Queen Elizabeth II waiting, especially when she has issued a personal invitation, but President Ronald Reagan managed to do so without causing any lasting damage.

It happened in 1982, when the Reagan White House failed to reply in a timely way to a personal invitation from the queen for the president and his wife, Nancy, to stay with her at Windsor Castle during a planned visit to England.

Formerly confidential papers made public Friday reveal there were raised eyebrows, and bruised feelings, when the queen's invitation languished for weeks.

"As you know those surrounding the president are not deliberately rude: It is simply that they are not well-organized and do not have experience of this sort of thing," wrote Nicholas Henderson, Britain's ambassador to Washington, in a memo to the British Foreign Office.

The misunderstanding was eventually cleared up - and Reagan even found the time to go horseback riding with the queen.

A former Reagan official offers one possible explanation: Nancy Reagan's astrologer.

"You have to remember that Mrs. Reagan was very strict about his schedule, and she would consult her astrologer to see if this was the right time to travel," William F. Sittman, a special assistant to Reagan, told The Associated Press. "Sometimes she would back up departures."

The tiff over the tardy reply is but one revelation contained in nearly 500 pages of newly released documents relating to the Reagan visit made public Friday by Britain's National Archives.

The dossier shows the British government - led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - to be extraordinarily interested in pleasing the relatively new president on his two-day visit.

British leaders also fretted that perennial cross-Channel rivals might triumph in the tug-of-war for presidential face time in a visit that had to be sandwiched between two summits on the European mainland. They feared the president might cancel, either because of time pressure or a reluctance to offend other European leaders who wanted meetings with Reagan.

The dossier is filled with serious political concerns - how to maximize Britain's influence on U.S. policy? - and lighter matters, including what gift to give the Reagans (they decided on a carriage clock), and what type of horse and saddle Reagan would most enjoy for his outing with the queen.

The documents make clear that Europe's leaders were desperate for Reagan's attention at a time of high Cold War tensions. A memo from U.K. Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong on Feb. 5 expresses concern that a gala, summit-closing dinner at the palace of Versailles could delay Reagan's arrival in London. But he warns against pressuring the Reagan entourage to skip the event because "that would not please the president of the French Republic."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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