The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Eastern Saudi Arabia – 8 January 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press statement and questions and answers, held in the desert in Eastern Saudi Arabia on Tuesday 8th January 1991.


Let me just say, amongst the principal reasons I came here was to have a look for myself and to satisfy myself what the conditions were, what the equipment was like, and to actually see conditions on the ground and both talk to our Commanders and to as many of the men as possible who are actually out here at the present time. I have found it thus far an extremely useful and worthwhile exercise and I am extremely pleased I came.

As you know, yesterday I had talks with the Emir of Kuwait, last evening I had a lengthy discussion with King Fahd of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and they were both extremely useful and worthwhile occasions.

There seems to me to be no doubt in anyone’s mind amongst the allies precisely why we are here or what it may be necessary to do. We still hope very much indeed that there is the possibility of a peaceful conclusion to this matter, that is our preferred outcome, we hope that that may yet emerge from the discussions which Mr Baker will have with Tariq Aziz later this week.

But what is entirely clear is that if a peaceful settlement is not possible that can only be because Saddam Hussein does not obey the Security Council Resolutions and if he does not those resolutions are quite clear and if he enters into a conflict that is a conflict of course that he cannot possibly win.

In my discussions thus far I have concentrated not only on the immediate problems that we face in front of us in terms of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait, but also on the security matters that will need to be considered after this matter is over in whatever way it happens to be concluded. These are very much preliminary discussions in terms of future security arrangements, but it seemed to me it was important to consider those now and this has provided a very useful and worthwhile opportunity to do so.

You will know that insofar as the troops are concerned we have now issued respirators, indeed I suspect all of you are carrying them as well, we have done that because of the nature of weapons that we know that Iraq have, and against the possibility that they would actually seek to use those weapons we will certainly seek to ensure that the troops have whatever equipment they may need to ensure their security and safety and to do the job that they have been sent here to do.

So I think those are the general introductory remarks that I would wish to make to you and I will endeavour to answer any questions you may have.


QUESTION (Alex Thompson, Channel 4 News):
Many people perhaps are a little confused, they say that there have been many instances of countries being invaded by other aggressor nations and Britain has not sent troops to those situations. Can you explain to the British people what it is that makes the Kuwait situation different?


I think there are a variety of things that make the Kuwait situation particularly important and indeed I took the opportunity of saying that to those troops I had the opportunity of speaking to this morning. Firstly, the nature of the invasion of Kuwait, entirely unprovoked, by a large aggressor against a small defenceless country was in itself objectionable and unacceptable. Secondly, what has actually happened in Kuwait and continues to happen in Kuwait daily in terms of the treatment of the inhabitants of Kuwait has been very carefully documented not least by the Amnesty International Report, that is a chilling report and that too is entirely unacceptable and needs to be reversed.

But beyond that I think there are some wider issues as well. If on this occasion, when the whole of the world is actually combined against Saddam Hussein as an aggressor, the aggressor were to get away with it, how many other small defenceless countries elsewhere around the world with an aggressive neighbour might face a similar problem in the future? I think the sheer force of world opinion requires that we do not let Saddam Hussein get away with it, not just to free Kuwait – important and vital though that is – but also to send a lesson to other people that this is not a way they can behave.

The wider point of course if I can add it as well is the difficulties there may be if this matter were not to be resolved satisfactorily now, we may have a much bigger problem on our hands in two or three years time. So I think for those and other reasons that I could expand upon if you invited me to, there are a raft of good reasons why the international community has acted as it has done. And if I may add this final point, it has done so with a wholly remarkable consistency of purpose, as you have seen in the Security Council Resolutions.

QUESTION (Peter Sale, Reuters):

Could you describe to us your ideas for a regional security network or how you see a regional security network evolving after the current Gulf crisis, do you see a permanent Western presence in that and if so how will you deal with Iran’s current objections to that?


No, I do not think that is by any means the only way in which the matter can be dealt with. But the purpose of raising it privately with the Arab leaders at the moment is to begin to appreciate the sensitivities that are involved as well as the logistical problems that are involved so that we may be better informed when these discussions begin in earnest at a later stage. I think there are a variety of options that one may consider when one looks at a security pattern for the region as a whole, but if you will forgive me, I will not speculate on those at the moment.

QUESTION (Alistair Campbell, Daily Mirror):

Have the military asked you for anything specifically, can you tell us what it is and are you likely to give it to them?


No they have not asked me for anything specifically but I have found out a great deal that has been useful and interesting that I shall follow up back in London.

QUESTION (Charles Richards, Independent):

You said that the invasion of Kuwait was unforgivable, does that mean that even if Saddam Hussein does withdraw from Kuwait he will have to be punished in some way?


We have made it perfectly clear, and I am happy to reiterate it, that if he stays in Kuwait he will be expelled, but if he withdraws to Iraq he will not be attacked within Iraq. We have made that clear and so have the other members of the Allied Forces and I am happy to reiterate that.


You told the troops that the purpose of the Baker meeting with Tang Aziz is not to negotiate and not to do any deals. You sound almost as warlike as Dan Quayle did last week, is there any room for him to get out?


We want him to get out, that is entirely right, that is exactly what we want him to do. But if Saddam Hussein is concerned about the deadline, as we now hear yesterday he may be, then he has it within his own hands, he can start moving out straight away, he should never have moved in and he should move out.

But if you have in mind that a partial withdrawal or something of that sort would be acceptable, then I must say to you I do not believe it is acceptable. Firstly because if somebody ransacks and burgles your house I doubt that you would find it acceptable if he maintained control of half of it. But secondly because the wider principle is this; if he does gain anything from this aggression, despite the opposition, the universal opposition to him, then other people may feel they could act in the same way elsewhere and likewise gain something from it. And I think given the increased force of the United Nations and the unprecedented nature of world opinion, we cannot permit him to do that when we have an opportunity to make clear to everyone that this is unacceptable behaviour and the international community will not accept it.


Just to follow up, you do not seem to leave any option except for war after 15 January if he does not go out?


He knows very well what the Security Council Resolutions say and what I have been saying is a reaffirmation of the Security Council Resolutions that have such unprecedented force. Saddam Hussein should read those resolutions and he should understand that we are serious about enforcing them.


Can you say something about the mood of the men you met today, the morale, and whether you heard any complaints or criticisms from them?


I had quite an opportunity both to talk to them but more importantly than that, to listen to them. You saw the mood of the men; you saw what good heart they were in; you saw what the morale was – I must say it is very remarkable indeed, both amongst those who have been here for some time and also those who have just arrived and I met a lot of young troops from Lancashire who have arrived here just in the last month or so and their morale was very high indeed. I asked them what conditions were like here; I must say, I did not pick up a lot of complaints; I picked up some suggestions and I will take those suggestions back and discuss them in London.


Can you tell us what suggestions they were?


I will discuss those first in London and then discuss them with Tom King.


Can you give a hint – food?


No, no! The food was fine. Food, they said, is fine depending upon the cook! It seemed to me from all I heard that it was a good deal better than the House of Commons!


Was one of the complaints the lack of information, newspapers, access to radio? This was the complaint made to us.


No, nobody has made that complaint at all. There was certainly some comment from the troops but this was a very favourable comment about the amount of equipment, newspapers and other matter that had been sent over the Christmas period not just by the Government but by lots of other people as well and there was a very considerable degree of pleasure at that, but I heard no complaints of the sort you envisage.


Can you confirm specifically that there will be no diminution in the degree of force to be used against Saddam Hussein if there is a partial withdrawal?


A partial withdrawal is not acceptable and a partial withdrawal will have to be followed by expulsion until it becomes a full withdrawal. There is no compromise on that.


Is it fair to say on that point that the partial withdrawal remains the one greatest problem you have as you have toured around this region – that is the one conundrum which you find it most difficult to solve?


I don’t know that it is a conundrum and it would be solved in the manner I have just described. We do not know whether that will occur or not. I hope that the message has finally got through to the Iraqis, the two messages, really, that are critical:

Firstly, that the Allies are serious; and secondly, that the Iraqis cannot win. Providing those two messages have gone home, as I hope they have, then I think we must look to Saddam Hussein to withdraw wholly. In those circumstances, there is no point on his behalf in a partial withdrawal and I must absolutely reiterate there is no point in him trying for a partial withdrawal because we shall enforce it until it is a full withdrawal.


Saddam Hussein is asking for a solution to the Middle East problem if you are looking for a solution to the Gulf crisis. What are your comments on that?


We shall be looking at the wider Middle East thereafter, as indeed we were before and we have made that perfectly clear. A solution to the wider Middle East problem is being held up by this particular side event at the moment, by this particular invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The wider problems of the Middle East will continue to be addressed as soon as this is over – they are very important.


After the withdrawal?


After the withdrawal.


In describing the reasons why the British and other troops are here, you omitted to mention the strategic value of the region and I was wondering why?


I could have added another five or six reasons why they were here but I set out the reasons that actually brought people here after the invasion and I think they are very important reasons and they were the underlying reasons why the Security Council Resolutions got such support.


Mr. Prime Minister, if Saddam Hussein does not withdraw his troops from Kuwait by 15 January, should the nation and people of Iraq consider themselves targets of the Allied Forces or will the force be restricted to the area that you identified today as wanting delivery, i.e. Kuwait?


I am not going to speculate on what may happen after the 15th if Saddam Hussein does not withdraw; I do not think that would be fair to our troops, I do not think it would be fair to anybody else and I do not propose to do it. I am not going to comment.


Prime Minister, after talking to the troops today, have you come across with a feeling similar to what we have received from them that they want to get the job done now and go home, that that would be preferable than waiting perhaps even longer for some peace negotiations to succeed?


No, I did not especially get that feeling but then I suppose everybody would pick up their own vibes from those they speak to. But certainly, that was not especially a feeling that I got.

I did get a feeling of very considerable resolution amongst the troops I met; they know what they are here for; they know what they may have to do; they are extremely professional, extremely well-trained and they are prepared to do it if necessary


Prime Minister, I want to know if Saddam Hussein is going to use chemical weapons you are agreed to use nuclear weapons?


We have plenty of weapons short of that and we have no plans of the sort you envisage and we hope it is perfectly clear to Saddam Hussein firstly that our men will be well-protected against chemical weapons – he would be very unwise to do that. I hope he will not do that; I hope he will actually have the sense to make a peaceful withdrawal but we have plenty of weapons short of those you mention.


I know you enjoy your holidays in Spain. I want to know what you think about Spanish collaboration, bringing some aeroplanes to the British Air Force.


I certainly enjoy my holidays in Candeleda and I hope to continue to do so and I am pleased to see the Spanish cooperation.


Prime Minister, are you effectively saying in so many words that unless a real withdrawal starts by this time next week, there will be war?


The situation is perfectly clear, Adam. The situation is as set out in the Security Council Resolutions and I am underlining that precisely, absolutely and not going beyond that.