The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to Conservative Middle East Council – 28 July 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Middle East Council, held in London on Thursday 28th July 1994.


Mr Chairman, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you firstly very much for your warm welcome, I am delighted to be your guest here this evening.

I think it is more than a truism to say that this dinner tonight is timely. We are at the moment in the midst of a crucial period in the history both of the Middle East and of Arab/Israeli relations. So I am delighted at this particular moment to have the opportunity to address the Conservative Middle East Council and I shall use it in just a few moments to make an announcement about our support for Jordan.

I have had, as your Chairman has just trailed, a personal interest in the Middle East ever since, as a new back-bencher, I visited the West Bank. It had its exciting moments, as Tony Marlow who I see is here this evening, will no doubt recall, others on that trip will have very special memories of some very exciting occasions during that special visit.

But since then I have had the opportunity on many occasions to follow that up as Prime Minister in visits and many meetings and I hope within the course of the next few months to make a further visit or two to the region.

So thank you, Chairman, for your hard work in organising the dinner and for your kind words. You and your colleagues in the Middle East Conservative Council represent a long tradition of interest in Middle East affairs in the Conservative Party. Standing at the Dispatch Box day after day I have, for good or ill, ranged behind me every shade of opinion and people whose detailed knowledge of the region stretches over many years and in some cases through many generations of their family and that can sometimes be a little daunting.

Ever since 1980 when Lord Chelwood and your President, Dennis Walters, established this Council you have helped our party to build closer and better links with the Arab world. The influence of the Council has been profound. You have always been candid about where your sympathies lie but also ready to listen to other points of view. You have worked with people on all sides who want to see a peaceful settlement of the Arab/Israeli dispute and you have promoted the cause of moderation and peace throughout the Middle East.

I am also particularly glad this evening to see the Dean of the Arab Ambassadors, Ambassador Mohammed Shakir [phon], and so many of his colleagues here with us this evening. Egypt has helped to lay the foundations for a lasting peace in the Middle East and Ambassador Shakir has played his own part in this historic and vital work on behalf not only of the Middle East but of the whole world.

I want in a few moments to turn specifically to the peace process, that brings far brighter news for us than many people might have imagined not very long ago. But before I do I want to say just a word or two about the two shocking terrorist attacks in London this week. They are alas not isolated events, there have been other acts recently, for example those in Buenos Aires and Panama which have taken an appalling toll. We cannot yet be certain what lay behind those acts or who perpetrated them, neither can we yet be certain whether they are connected, but I know that you tonight would want me to express the repugnance of everybody present at those attacks and at all acts of terrorism and our sympathy for the victims and for the bereaved of those attacks.

Terrorism is the enemy of everyone present here this evening and of many hundreds of millions not present here this evening. Terrorism has been directed at those who seek peace and progress in the Middle East, terrorism is perpetrated by those who refuse to abide by the rule of law and by the principles of a civilised society, we must seek out its perpetrators and bring them to justice, it is unacceptable for any state to tolerate, let alone support, terrorism and the international community must unite against it both now and for so long as it lasts.

If I had said just a year ago that we were on the threshold of a new era in the Middle East I doubt that very many people would have believed me, optimism was out of fashion. But last August word began to spread of an outline agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And when the declaration of principles was signed in September, a blow against pessimism everywhere was struck. That act of courage, for that is what it was, transformed prospects for the region.

Now Israel has completed its withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho and the Palestinians have made an encouraging start in assuming their new responsibilities there. The knot has been cut, it is now easier to go forward than to go back and it is essential that we go forward with that peace process.

We strongly support the declaration of principles and we particularly wish to give practical help to the new Palestinian administration in Gaza and Jericho and we aim to commit at least 75 million pounds in bilateral and multilateral assistance over the next three years. We are giving priority to the Palestinian police, good security self-evidently is vital to the Gaza/Jericho agreement. We have already run two training courses in the United Kingdom for senior Palestinian police officers and we provided equipment and in the future we shall do more. We are helping other pillars of the new entity. The Bank of England is advising the Palestinians on setting up a central monetary authority and that is something that I agreed we would do when Yasser Arafat visited London last year. British experts are helping to prepare for the elections later this year and to build the legal infrastructure. And we of course intend to help the private sector, the need for new enterprises and new jobs is self-evident.

A comprehensive settlement is of course the ultimate goal. Last Monday’s summit between King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin has been another huge step forward. I am one amongst many who can count themselves as a personal friend in Britain of King Hussein. I believe he has shown indomitable courage over many years and has led Jordan towards democracy as well as towards peace.

So I applaud the Washington declaration ending the state of war between Jordan and Israel. We wish to support Jordan in every way we can along the path charted by King Hussein. I know from my many discussions with the King that the burden of accumulated debt has weighed heavily on Jordan for many years. If we can alleviate this burden I believe we can help Jordan’s economic growth and democratisation and underpin the new relationship with Israel.

I am therefore delighted, Chairman, to announce tonight that Britain will be converting outstanding balances of loans to Jordan by the Overseas Development Administration to a grant, this will be worth approximately 60 million and should be seen as a powerful signal of our support for King Hussein and for Jordan.

And we hope also to see early progress on the Syrian and Lebanon tracks. In Lebanon, despite the continued Israeli presence in the south, impressive efforts are under way to rebuild the country, and in particular Beirut, after years of destructive conflict that destroyed that magnificent and historic city. A just and a lasting comprehensive settlement is now a real possibility, it would produce a lasting stability, something unknown to anyone now living in the near East. And it would offer the chance of growing prosperity, of increased trade and investment, of better communications and of harnessing the talents and potential of all countries in the regions, including Israel. With this more hopeful prospect it is surely time to end the Arab boycott of the eight summit nations proposed at Naples.

More generally I would like to see a new partnership and a deeper understanding between Britain, Europe and the Middle East. In his Oxford speech last October the Prince of Wales argued that the links between the West and the world of Islam mattered more today than ever before. As he rightly said, there is much that binds the cultures of the West and the Middle East together, respect for knowledge and for justice, compassion for the under privileged, the importance of family life. We deeply respect Islam, we do not regard it as a threat. It is completely wrong in our judgment to equate the extremism of a few in the Middle East with the religion of Islam.

We live in neighbouring regions of a shrinking world. Thousands of Britons live and work in the Middle East and in other Islamic countries, hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Britain adhere to Islam in this country. We benefit from the diversity and richness of each other’s culture and traditions, just as we do from the vibrant network of personal and professional connections. And we must jointly stand against those who ferment misunderstanding or seek in whatever way they can to try and drive our countries apart.

The surge in British trade with the Middle East last year shows some of the benefits of partnership, helped by the efforts in fact of many of the people here present this evening. British exports to the region went up by nearly 15 percent with increases of up to 50 percent in some countries. The peace process should contribute to the growth of two-way trade in the future. And within Europe we shall of course lead the drive for more liberal trading arrangements to the benefit of all.

These are exciting prospects but there are problems too and I should like to say just a few words about them. It is now over three years since Kuwait was liberated. But dealing with the consequences of Iraq’s aggression is sadly a continuing task for us. There is one clear objective, full and complete

implementation by Iraq of all the relevant Security Council resolutions. We seek to help the Iraqi people, not to prolong their suffering. I deeply regret their hardship because they deserve better than they receive, but it is the Iraqi regime which by its failure to act and by its cruel and repressive policies is prolonging this suffering. None of the Security Council requirements is unreasonable, none of them is difficult, fulfilling them would enable Iraq to rejoin the international community.

And Iraq’s neighbour – Iran – presents another serious challenge to the international community. Iran is an important regional power, we would prefer a normal relationship with Iran but many aspects of her behaviour are simply unacceptable, in many cases threatening, on human rights, on terrorism, her military and nuclear ambitions, her attempts to undermine the peace process. The Naples Summit captured the view of most members of the international community, the eight nations there wanted the government of Iran to participate constructively in international efforts for peace and stability. But we also said clearly and unequivocally that Iran had to modify its behaviour to allow that to happen and we look to Iran to heed that message.

In Yemen the recent civil war has caused acute humanitarian problems and serious concern to the country’s neighbours. We supported the decision of the two former states to unify in 1990, we supported morally and materially the democratic elections of 1993. We were all the more disappointed when the unified government failed to operate either effectively or justly. A lasting solution will be found only through negotiation and dialogue. We have tried to help this process, we promoted both the Security Council resolutions, we have kept in close touch with our good friends in the region and we understand their concerns, we have supported relief efforts. All of us present this evening share the goal of restoring stability to Yemen. The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy, Mr Brahimi [phon], is now trying to bring the two sides together. I urge the Yemeni authorities to cooperate fully with him in the search for stability and internal peace.

With Libya the unresolved question of the Lockerbie bombing is another impediment to regional stability. We have said repeatedly that we are entirely prepared to suspend sanctions if the two suspects are handed over for trial either in Scotland or the United States, if the French obtain satisfaction over the UTA bombing, and if Libya renounces terrorism irrevocably. We have no other aims. Suggestions have been made from time to time for trying the accused elsewhere, such as in The Hague, possibly under Scottish law or even before a specially established United Nations tribunal.

I have to say to you tonight that such ideas are not acceptable, they imply that somehow the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is flawed and unreliable and that special arrangements should be made for the sake of terrorist suspects. We have given the Libyans every assurance of a fair trial in Scotland and humane treatment of the accused. If Libya complies with the Security Council resolutions there is no reason why our relations should not once more become positive and beneficial.

Touching, if I may for a moment, on the Mahgreb, I would like to mention Algeria. We and our partners welcome the Algerian government’s agreement with the IMF on a far reaching economic programme and we are supporting it financially. Extremism thrives on economic deprivation. Successful economic reform will do much to widen support for Algeria’s government and her institutions.

Let me if I may now turn at slightly greater length to Bosnia. We are again facing a very serious situation. For the past five months there has been a fragile peace in Bosnia, a fragile peace across most of Bosnia, tenuous, tense, often interrupted but nevertheless a form of peace. People have begun to rebuild their lives and their properties, as I saw for myself when I last visited there and saw people returning to their village after months and months hiding well away from it. Some hope had returned.

That peace resulted from negotiations between the Muslims and the Croats in which British United Nations commanders played a crucial part. It has been preserved only because UNPROFOR was there to help preserve it, again with a large British UNPROFOR contingent playing a leading part and going first into some of the most dangerous places, such as Gorazde, to protect the population and mostly of course the Muslim population.

Let me first describe what our aims have been in Bosnia. They have at times been misrepresented and at other times misunderstood, but it is important to be clear about them. It has not been our objective to impose a peace on Bosnia by military force simply because that has never been an attainable objective for the United Kingdom and our allies. If a simple military solution had been attainable of course we and others would have gone for it long ago. But anyone who has studied the terrain and the military dispositions of Bosnia knows that imposing peace would have required a huge military force, it would certainly have required the deployment of very large numbers of American ground troops as well as those of other NATO allies. That has never been in prospect, the casualties, including civilian casualties, would have been enormous, the conflict long and uncertain and the result would not have been a lasting settlement.

So we have pursued three clear and realistic objectives. First, in the two years since I convened the international conference in London, we have unremittingly pursued a negotiated settlement, a settlement acceptable to the peoples of Bosnia, in short the only form of settlement that would last. I shall come back to that in just a moment. Second, we have sought to contain the conflict within Bosnia and we have so far succeeded in this. It has not spread yet to other volatile areas such as Kosovo or Macedonia. Croatia is mostly now at peace, East and West have not lined up on opposite sides, there has been a remarkable unity of purpose between Europe, the United States and Russia throughout this year.