The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Chancellor Kohl in Bonn – 26 May 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s joint press conference in Bonn with the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the German and British Foreign Ministers, on Friday 26th May 1995.


Prime Minister, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. First of all I would like to apologise for the fact of keeping you waiting. You know that I am not in the habit to do so normally but we had our normal and regular consultations here today and it was all of a sudden today that the events in former Yugoslavia took a fairly dramatic turn, so at this point I would only like to make very briefly a few introductory comments on what loomed on the agenda of our bilateral consultations and then the Foreign Ministers will give a report on what happened today.

The delay took place because the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, whom we both wanted to call, and we did so, was not in Moscow but in Minsk and it took a little while to establish a telephone link with Minsk and unfortunately we had to keep you waiting. I would like to ask for your understanding.

On the 25th Anglo-German consultations, they take place at a very important time in international politics. I would like to use the opportunity here, John, to thank you most warmly for the friendship that you have shown us and the support that you have shown us throughout these times that are so important in the history of our nation and where such painful memories come back into one’s memories. I would like to thank you for what you did on 8 May and I would like to thank you for the very good speech that you gave in Berlin, a speech that was characterised by friendship. On the issues that we discussed, well first of all we agreed on a private visit of John Major and his wife for the autumn of this year and I will be very happy to receive him as my personal guest at my home.

We talked about the G7, about the preparations leading up to the G7 meeting in Halifax, to the EU meeting in Cannes, about all of the issues that we are going to discuss there, and we were at one in our desire before these important conferences, that is both for Halifax and for Cannes, to come to the closest possible consultation and cooperation between our two governments. And there are a number of priorities that we set for ourselves. First of all drawing the central and Eastern European countries closer to the European Union, legal harmonisation, looking here at the White Book of the Commission to that effect. Both governments have always been at one that drawing the young fledgling democracies of central and Eastern Europe closer to the European Union is one of the pre-conditions for being able to maintain peace in Europe.

We talked about contacts and the relationship to the countries of the Mediterranean area; we talked about internal and legal policy about Europol and other related subjects; and obviously, and here too we closely cooperate, we talked about unemployment and the employment situation in general, and that incidentally was also a very important issue that loomed large on the agenda of President Chirac and myself last week.

We also would wish that the Commission will submit the report in such a way to the Cannes meeting that we may be able to discuss the principle of subsidiarity. On the request of both of our governments, a German and a British group of entrepreneurs has brought in a number of proposals on deregulation and the Prime Minister and myself will, in a joint letter to the President of the Commission, submit this proposal for further examination,


Helmut, thank you very much. Let me just add a few words to what the Chancellor has had to say. We have had a very friendly, very wide-ranging, very candid, very practical and very constructive meeting, and as always it has been immensely enjoyable.

As the Chancellor said, we spent some time discussing the prospects of a G7 meeting in Halifax, we have had a very close look at some of the ideas that are around for reform of the international financial institutions and the United Nations. We looked particularly at the agenda for the Cannes European Council on deregulation, as the Chancellor said. We have been working together. There has been an Anglo-German business group working together, they have reached some conclusions and we have jointly written to all our fellow Heads of Government in the European Union, and the President of the Commission, sending them a copy of that report with our full support.

We also discussed transatlantic relations, trade relations and other relations. We are certainly keen on building those up, keen on looking at the prospects for building on the GATT agreement and the advent of the World Trade Organisation, and this is something else that we will continue to return to time and time again in the future. I will not run through all the details of the points the Chancellor mentioned. He set out I think accurately for both of us much of the substance of our discussion.

The Foreign Ministers have spent this morning talking about Bosnia and the Chancellor and I have spent some time on that as well. Let me just say a word or two about that and what has been happening in the last couple of hours. Clearly the situation is very serious there and there is no doubt that we need to look very carefully at what is happening there at the moment and what will need to happen in the immediate future. I had the opportunity about an hour ago of speaking on the telephone to General Rupert Smith in Sarajevo and he reported on the present situation there, I think, as you know, a substantial number of people have been killed and wounded in the attacks, the precise numbers, some have been reported, but the precise numbers in truth are not yet known and may not be known for a little while yet.

What is perfectly clear is that what has happened over the last couple of days is immensely serious. The remedy for this overwhelmingly lies with the Serbs. They need to observe the ultimatum that has been set and they need to return their weapons to the collection point.

A second point I think that needs making very forcibly. Whilst it is necessary for the Serbs to do that, it is also necessary to ask the Bosnian government to restrain themselves and not to add to any of the difficulties that at present are being faced by the United Nations protection forces.

And the third point I would make I believe is equally very important. I hope there are no more attacks against United Nations personnel, either direct attacks against them or attacks with the intention of taking hostages, at all. I believe that would not be a way for them to proceed. Putting pressure on the nations who have troops there in the protection forces is not the right way for us to proceed at the moment and I hope that is fully understood by the Bosnian Serbs.

Clearly we have some difficult decisions to face in the near future. The Chancellor and I have sent a message to President Yeltsin asking him to use his influence with the Bosnian Serbs, and after sending the message we managed to find him on the telephone at Minsk, and also had the opportunity of speaking to him and delivering precisely the same message, and I am very hopeful on the basis of that that he will use his influence to try and calm matters down in and around Sarajevo.

I think for the moment I will leave events at that, return it to the Chancellor. He may want the Foreign Ministers to say a word about their morning discussions and then perhaps we could take any questions you may have.


Allow me to add, if I may, that we also established contact with the French Prime Minister. He is familiar with our message and the text of our message that we sent to Boris Yeltsin, but he is on the road somewhere in France and he is just now coming back to Paris. Klaus Kinkel will immediately try after this press conference to establish contact with him and inform him and I would like to remind all of us of the fact that yesterday night I had a long telephone conversation with President Clinton although all those things had not yet reached that dramatic peak that they have today.

  1. KINKEL:

As the Prime Minister and the Chancellor said, the crucial issue of the talks between the Chancellor and Prime Minister Major and between my British colleague, Douglas Hurd, and myself was certainly the situation in Bosnia, a situation that has reached a new, dramatic peak particularly in the areas in and around Sarajevo and Tusla. You know that the Serbs massively attacked Sarajevo particularly this morning and there was a very large number of casualties and wounded. We don’t as yet have any substantive figures. Another air strike took place in the meantime and the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and we Foreign Ministers were at one that everything has to be done in order to reach a de-escalation of the situation.

I had talks in Washington with Vice-President Gore, the Security Advisor Legge and also the Secretary of State, Mr. Christopher and this dramatic peak which the situation had reached loomed large on our agenda. We are in very close contact with the Secretary-General of NATO; before our talks, we had a number of telephone conversations with him and tried to get information on the most recent state of affairs.

The Prime Minister has already pointed out and the Chancellor also mentioned that a message was sent to President Yeltsin and we finally made telephone contact. This was a message directed to President Yeltsin where we appealed to him to exert his influence on Milosovic to prevent him from supporting the Bosnian Serbs; the message further contained an appeal to Milosovic where we asked him to please do everything to see to it that the border between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs remains closed. This message called for three very clear-cut objectives: first of all, de-escalation; secondly, the bombarding of the protected areas will have to stop immediately; and thirdly, heavy weapons have to remain in the collection points because there are indications that there too there may be a certain development that would be most unwelcome and most unpleasant and obviously the message said that the taking of hostages will not be in any way successful and that this must be stopped immediately.

As the Chancellor said, we are in contact with Prime Minister Juppe, and with the Americans and tonight we are going to call them once again. Further steps will be the following:

The Contact Group foreign ministers will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Nortvige [phoentic] in Holland and then we will think once again about possible further steps and obviously we will try to make contact with Foreign Minister Kozyrev.

I do not want to go into details of the military operation. We have been informed by Secretary-General Claus and by General Rupert Smith of the present state of affairs but this obviously is a matter for the military to assess the real situation on the ground and whether further measures will be taken.

It is undoubtedly a very grave and very serious situation that we want to and will have to try to solve by resorting to political means. Any military solution of the Bosnian conflict, of the situation in former Yugoslavia, cannot and must not be the right way.


I do not need to add very much. As Klaus Kinkel has just said, it is clear that the decisions hour by hour on the ground and in the air rest with the NATO and United Nations commanders and as has been said, we have been in very close touch with them hour by hour this morning. Warren Christopher telephoned me first thing this morning in order to express his support for what the UN and NATO had done so far and indicated that it would be necessary, he thought, to do more. That is the view of everybody here and the Prime Minister made clear in Parliament yesterday that we fully support what has been done and that is also the German view so that is support for those who are responsible for these very difficult and dangerous decisions hour by hour on the ground but we have to support them in another way which is to try and bring the maximum pressure on all those concerned to prevent what is happening now which is bad enough – enough people are being killed – from escalating into an even greater war with more suffering, more casualties and the effect on the future of the United Nations effort and that is why the Federal Chancellor and the Prime Minister have sent a message to President Yeltsin, that is why they have talked to him, that is why we are in very close touch with the French and of course with the Americans. The Bosnian Serbs would have been wise to heed the terms of the ultimatum which they received; they would be wise to heed it now.




Chancellor, can you tell us how President Yeltsin reacted to the message that he received from you?


He clearly gave us to understand – and obviously in a way I am adding my interpretation of it and using my own words now – that he considered the situation to be extremely dangerous and he promised to act on the basis of our message in any direction desired in that message. We did not talk about details obviously but both of us talked to him on the telephone and we both impressed on him how serious we thought the situation is. It is obviously a fairly unusual way of proceeding the sort of action which we immediately resorted to which we thought however was a very necessary reaction in view of the circumstances.


Prime Minister, you spoke about some difficult decisions to face in the near future. What are those decisions and do they include a decision on whether or not to withdraw?


Over the days ahead, the immediate difficult decisions I had in mind were the difficult decisions to be taken by the commanders on the ground in response to whatever action may be taken against Sarajevo, against the ammunition dumps or against any other target so those were the immediate decisions I had in mind. They are decisions that will not be easy for the commanders. Clearly, if the situation deteriorates, one would have to take a strategic look but let me make clear again what I have said in the past. I think there are two points that are relevant:

Firstly, for as long as it is possible, for as long as the United Nations protection forces can credibly carry out their humanitarian mandate and save lives, it would be my wish for the protection forces to stay there providing they can do so at acceptable risk to themselves.

The second point is equally important. If they cannot carry out their mandate at acceptable risk, if the fighting escalates to a level when it is quite impossible, then clearly circumstances could arise when it would not be possible for the United Nations protection forces to remain.

I emphasise that is not my wish. I believe they have done a superb job there, I very much hope they will continue to stay there but I think everyone on the ground needs to be aware that they are there with a particular mandate, with a humanitarian responsibility and they are not equipped to be in the middle of a full-scale war.


There are reports that President Yeltsin has condemned the latest UN air strike. Can you confirm that, please?


I haven’t seen such reports.


He didn’t express any view to you?


We were primarily discussing what can be done to de-escalate the problem there and President Yeltsin undertook, as the Chancellor said a moment ago, to use his best offices.


Chancellor or Prime Minister, has any idea been put forward to reposition forces or regroup forces and also to deploy Western forces in order to protect the United Nations troops on the ground there?


That would be a matter for the commanders on the ground to advise about, indeed it would be a matter for them to take decisions about. In terms of regrouping and moving the forces, the commander has the responsibility and the authority to do that in the interests of his own troops and his own mission. Whether he is doing that at the moment, I don’t yet knew. I don’t believe he has yet done so. If he believes it necessary, then he would have the authority to do so.