Britain's ''Iron Lady'' bends toward Soviets - ever so slightly
The Iron Lady is no more. For months now Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has quietly been trying to remove the outspokenly anti-Soviet ''Iron Lady'' label pinned onto her by former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Her appearance in Moscow at the funeral of Yuri Andropov confirms she intends to tear the label in half and throw it away.
Her public speeches have changed considerably from her early days in office. Instead of denunciations she now calls for dialogue.
Aides say her conversion came well before President Reagan's new, softer line toward Moscow this year. It means three of the main figures within the NATO alliance - Mr. Reagan, Helmut Kohl, and Mrs. Thatcher - are all stressing this is the time for at least a partial thaw.
Thatcher aides add the caveat that hers is a change of style rather than substance: She has not changed her personal antipathy toward the Soviet system of government or its ideology.
But her public stance has been changing since her reelection to 10 Downing Street last June.
Her visit to Hungary two weeks ago was a clear sign of her intentions: ''While I am known as the Iron Lady,'' she said at the end of that visit, ''I also have an iron resolve to work for peace.''
Mrs. Thatcher came to power in 1979 noted for fierce, uncompromising verbal attacks on Moscow - rather as Ronald Reagan came to Washington a year later. For years she kept up a fusillade of criticism against Soviet expansionism, attacks on dissidents, economic decline, and what she saw as a lack of morality.
But by last September there were hints of change.
In Washington at the end of September, she was still accusing Soviet leaders of presiding over ''a modern version of the early tyrannies of history.'' Yet in the same speeches she was also saying, ''We live on the same planet and we have to go on sharing it.''
The softer line was not picked up by the British press at the time. Her aides did not highlight such comments in press briefings lest her conversion seem too sudden.
Yet the milder language continued to grow.
One reason was a desire to stake out a somewhat separate position from Washington, while adhering to US positions in public.