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 Cairo – 9 January 1991

The text of Mr Major’s press conference in Cairo, made on Wednesday 9th January 1991.


May I just say firstly how pleased I am to be able to be here today and how worthwhile and enjoyable I have found the discussion with President Mubarak, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

We have had the opportunity today, at a particularly important time, to review a range of matters but of course most noticeably the present crisis that exists as a result of Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

I am delighted to say in our discussions that it is perfectly clear that the position of the British government and that of the Egyptian government is precisely and absolutely the same. I found an absolute determination amongst my Egyptian colleagues here that Saddam Hussein would have to withdraw from Kuwait and that the Security Council Resolutions would need to be implemented in full and speedily and there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that that is the very firm and resolute position of the Egyptian government.

I would like to add. if I may, having spent in the last few days some time with the troops that are gathering together in Saudi Arabia at the moment, I would like to say how much the international community appreciates the very remarkable contribution that Egypt has made towards that international force, it was speedily delivered, was resolutely delivered, it is a very substantial contribution and I know on behalf of all the partners in these allied forces I would like to express my gratitude to the Egyptian government for the way and the speed in which they responded to the crisis that has arisen.

I hope that these discussions we have had today will be a further indication on a very important day whilst discussions continue, as I understand they still are continuing, in Geneva, a further indication on a very important day that Saddam Hussein is entirely on his own in his defiance of world opinion and his continued occupation of Kuwait. I think the discussions we have today have reinforced that particular view and I am delighted that I had the opportunity of coming here to have them.

We were also able to look at a number of bilateral matters in general terms and President Mubarak was kind and generous enough to suggest that at an appropriate time I might care again to make a further and longer visit. And the bilateral relations at the moment between Britain and Egypt are excellent, I am very keen for us to build upon those and I hope at a suitable time I will be able to take up that most generous offer.


QUESTION (Barney Mason – BBC):

Prime Minister, you have been quoted as saying in Saudi Arabia that it would be better to deal with Saddam Hussein now rather than further down the road when he has got nuclear weapons. In view of that and in view of the dangers that have been stressed by and taken seriously by some experts recently about an ecological disaster if there is a war, I am talking about the reports of deep mining and oil wells and the consequences of that, do you think that that makes it much more difficult to go to war now, is that a constraint?


I think the first thing is that I should make it absolutely clear that nobody wants to go to war now, we want the matter settled by Saddam Hussein withdrawing out of Kuwait and going back to Iraq, that is the way ideally we would have it settled and it can be settled that way providing he is prepared to do it. The impediment to peace is Saddam Hussein and not the allies who are there. Clearly if it came to a conflict there would be ecological difficulties, it is undeniable that there would be some difficulties. But I think that those assessments of them that I have thus far seen have been very dramatically over-stated indeed. I think that is undoubtedly the case.

But nonetheless there is a difficulty, as a result of what has happened in Kuwait, that needs to be dealt with and I think that is generally understood. So although one is concerned about the environmental impact of any conflict anywhere, not just here, any conflict anywhere, it is necessary to deal with this problem and the sooner it is done the better. I hope very much that it can be done peaceably, but that alas is not in our hands.


Do you think a change of alliances would happen in the Middle East if Israel was involved in the Gulf crisis or any military confrontation?


I do not believe Israel is going to be involved in it, Israel have kept well clear of it, I think that is right, the matter is going to be dealt with by the allied forces who are here if it is not dealt with by Saddam Hussein voluntarily withdrawing. So I hope and believe the situation that you envisage will not arise.


What have you and Mr Mubarak worked out or discussed about Post-Gulf crisis arrangements for security in the Arab region?


We have not worked anything out because that is a matter for discussion with a large number of Gulf rulers as well. I have had the opportunity in the last few days of discussing with a number of Gulf rulers the position that will apply at the end of this crisis, for clearly there will be difficulties however it ends, and I think there is a general understanding that the Gulf Cooperation Council will need to examine what the security needs of the area are and they will then wish to examine no doubt with other powers as well the way in which the security of the area can be guaranteed.

But there is a great deal of discussion and consideration to be developed before we can make any positive judgment as to how the matter might be dealt with. And of course the lead in that must necessarily come from the Arab nations themselves and that is a matter I discussed this morning with President Mubarak but because of the fact that this is only very much in its preliminary stages we did not reach firm conclusions as to what the outcome will be.

That there is a matter to be discussed we are agreed upon and think that is the view of the other Arab leaders as well and it is something that will in my judgment become a matter of increasing importance and attention as the year progresses.


As a follow-up, what role would the United States play in the broad area?


That is a matter to be determined after the Gulf Cooperation Council and others have considered the matter, it is far too early to say what anyone’s role is, either the host Arab nations or the role of any other non-Arab nation at a later stage, it is far too early to contemplate that. What it is not too early to do is to identify the problem, identify the difficulty and make sure that the work is actually put in hand and the thinking that needs to be done is under way.

QUESTION (Arab News):

Dr Meguid [phon], I would like to ask you, in case of war has Egypt stated its position if Israel takes part in the war, will they withdraw their forces or will they actually fight alongside the Israeli soldiers?


I am sorry but I think we have agreed that this press conference is the privilege of the Prime Minister so I will not answer questions.


May I direct it to Mr Prime Minister, have you discussed this with President Mubarak?


I think as I said a few moments ago, that is not a circumstance that either we or anybody else envisage happening, I do not think the Israelis are going to become involved in this conflict, certainly not unilaterally, I hope they are not going to become involved in this conflict in any way. That has been the position thus far and we hope very much the matter is going to be settled either peaceably with Saddam Hussein withdrawing or by the allied forces.


If I may press, Sir, have you discussed the possibility?


You may press but I have nothing further to say.


In view of the Labour Party’s increasing emphasis on the importance of not rushing into a war, do you think that British public opinion is behind military action soon after the 15th?


I think British public opinion has been very resolute so far and not only British public opinion, opinion in the House of Commons as well. It is after all only a few days ago that we had a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of the Gulf, after the Security Council Resolutions were passed, and the impact of the Security Council Resolutions were known and the majority in the House of Commons for the government’s posture was a majority of over 400, an almost unprecedented majority. So I think that not only is there a very secure majority for it in the House of Commons, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that that very strong opinion is held in the country at large.


For early military action?


The Security Council Resolutions are quite clear, the Security Council Resolutions say there will be no action before the 15th, after that it is a matter to be considered and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the resolution of the allied nations.