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1994 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Douglas Hurd

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, held in Budapest on Tuesday 6th December 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

I would like first to express my thanks to the Hungarian government for the hospitality and organisation of this conference. It is a very large conference by almost any reckoning and I think the organisation has been absolutely excellent and I am most grateful for that.

During the whole of the summit I think it is fair to say that two issues have dominated: Bosnia, of course, as it was always likely to do; and the future enlargement of NATO. On Bosnia I set out in my speech yesterday what was at stake and frankly I have very little to add to that. The British troops in Bosnia are there to help the protection forces discharge an humanitarian mandate, they are there to save lives. In the period that they have been there I believe they have saved many thousands of lives and they are there to keep the peace where there is a peace to be kept. They are emphatically not there to fight a war or to take sides.

But if the events deteriorate to the point where United Nations troops and the British contingent can no longer carry out their mandate without unacceptable risk, then of course they will have to leave, and that is simply to state a matter of fact.

I very much hope that it will not come to this, it certainly does not have to come to this. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Serb, Bosnian and Croat leaders in the last 48 hours and all of them, without exception, have said they would like the protection forces to stay. Now if that is a view sincerely held, the conclusion to be drawn is self-evident. The warring parties must, without delay, cease fire, allow the free passage of United Nations troops and aid and make it possible to re-start the peace negotiations.

On the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation there has frankly been rather a lot of excitable comment this morning about an East-West rift. I think it is worthwhile looking at precisely what our aim should be. Our aim must be to spread eastwards the prosperity and the stability that members of the European Union and NATO now enjoy, and that is precisely why both organisations are currently developing ties with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in a number of cases with a view to eventual membership of those organisations.

We wish obviously to move gradually and carefully towards enlargement, building on the Partnership for Peace programme. I spent some time discussing this yesterday with President Yeltsin and this followed an earlier conversation on the same subject when he visited Chequers last September. And it is perfectly apparent from that discussion that President Yeltsin's concern is that NATO would enlarge swiftly to Russia's Western border, possibly starting as early as next year. I said to him in our conversation that in fact NATO's proposals were to move cautiously and without deadlines. NATO's study into future membership is about the how and the why of enlargement, not the who and when of future membership. I made it clear to President Yeltsin that the United Kingdom wanted the outcome of the study to be discussed openly with all Partnership for Peace partners, including Russia, and there should be no surprises and there should be no secret deals about the enlargement of NATO.

I formed the impression that President Yeltsin was entirely satisfied with that approach. He is concerned with the pace and the scale of NATO's enlargement, he does not want to see a new dividing line drawn across Europe and neither do any of the members of NATO or the would-be members of NATO wish to see such a dividing line. It is therefore very important for NATO to continue to build up its relationship with Russia and that is why I hope that Russia will soon be able to sign its Partnership for Peace agreements with NATO.

The talk we have heard over the past 24 - 48 hours of a relapse into the Cold War ignores I think yesterday's very substantial achievements - the strengthening of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty through the accession of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the entry into force of START I, and a clearing of the way towards the ratification of START II. And I think what those agreements, signed yesterday, show, is that a great prize is still very much within reach between East and West, a partnership between Russia and the West from which the sharp hostilities of the Cold War will be absent.

I think therefore that much of the talk about difficulties between NATO and Russia has been grotesquely overdone, there are concerns and I think those concerns can readily be met.

During the period we have been here both I and the Foreign Secretary have had the opportunity of a large number of bilateral discussions with other Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government and that also has been a very useful adjunct to the conference as a whole.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Paul Reynolds, BBC):

How can you explain how the situation has arisen where you are talking of withdrawing troops when the Security Council resolution clearly gives you the right to use all necessary means to carry out the humanitarian mandate?

PRIME MINISTER:

I explained that rather clearly yesterday, I think, Paul. The troops are there for an humanitarian purpose, for so long as they can safely carry out that humanitarian purpose, they will stay. I am not anxious for the troops to leave, quite the reverse, we were one of the first countries to send troops there in large numbers and we did so because of our humanitarian concern for what is happening there. But those troops are not equipped to fight a war and they are not there to fight a war and we have to have concern for the safety of those troops, as indeed to other troop contributors. And the point that I have been making is that if they cannot safely undertake their task then it is not credible for them to remain. I hope that will not occur but I have to warn that it could.

QUESTION:

Is the British government thinking in terms of time to withdraw their troops from the former Yugoslavia and to get a peace plan approved by the various sides?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we have not got a particular timescale in mind and as I indicated just now, I very much hope that it will not be necessary to withdraw troops. But if they cannot satisfactorily undertake their task, and it is not safe for them to remain, then we may have no choice. As far as seeking diplomatic conclusion is concerned, the Foreign Secretary has had a range of meetings over the last weekend with Foreign Minister Juppe, he met Mr Milosevic and others, the Contact Group are resuming and we very much hope the peace plan can move forward, the Foreign Secretary may wish to add to it. Certainly we wish to explore more diplomatic moves to see whether a settlement can be reached, that infinitely is the prize that we must all aim for.

QUESTION (Nik Gowing, Channel 4 News):

How much, if a withdrawal has to happen, will be dictated by what is happening on the ground, how much of it in the end will be dictated by your military advice which says Prime Minister if we do not go now, it is going to be increasingly difficult to withdraw. And secondly, is the withdrawal likely to take the 165 days which the UN mentioned at the beginning of last week or can it be done much quicker?

PRIME MINISTER:

The points you raise are interlinked, of course. But the other point that needs to be made, it is not just a question of the British, it is a question of the other troops who are there as well, they are there as United Nations troops, of course we are particularly concerned about the British contingent there, but the United Nations themselves will be concerned about all the troops. We have to look both at what the situation is at present and what it looks as though it is going to become. Withdrawal is not an overnight affair so of course we must have contingency plans for that, but if you will forgive me I will not go into those in depth.

QUESTION:

I would like to ask if from the British point of view can we expect any concrete steps forward from the participants of this summit in connection with the Bosnian problem?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not sure what concrete will emerge from this particular summit except the frustration that everyone feels, there is a universal desire to end the fighting and reach a negotiated settlement and repeatedly that universal desire is frustrated on the ground by one party or another. So I think undoubtedly there is a huge amount of frustration about that. What in concrete terms may emerge from this summit, I am not sure that this summit is going to produce anything that will definitively move the process forward and I am not sure it was ever likely that it will be able to do so.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I think the sequences of what needs to happen is now increasingly accepted, the order of things, though some of the substance of them is difficult. First, there has to be a ceasefire and a cessation of hostilities, beginning in Bihac. There is an argument about how long it should be for, arguments about how it should be worked out, and that is really for the UN on the ground to negotiate, as Mr Akashi is trying to do. Then there needs to be acceptance of the Contact Group plan. As you know, it is accepted by everybody except the Bosnian Serbs and even some of them yesterday in Belgrade said they should accept it, that is a new development, foreshadowed to Alain Juppe and myself by Mr Milosevic when we saw him the night before last. But that plan is not yet accepted by the Bosnian Serbs. Then there can be talks about territorial adjustments, about land swaps, among the parties to see if such swaps can be agreed. At the same time there can be talks about Constitutional arrangements, as set out in the Contact Group document. And then there needs to be a Bosnian Serb withdrawal to the 49 percent which under the Contact Group plan they would be entitled to occupy within Bosnia Herzegovina, the integrity of whose frontiers is stated by the Contact Group plan.

So that is the sequence of events. As I say, there is argument at several points of it, but everyone I have talked to, all members of the Contact Group, President Milosevic, President Izetbegovic, President Tudjman, accept that that is the sequence, that is the order in which these things ought to happen.

PRIME MINISTER:

As the Foreign Secretary sets out, the route map to peace is perfectly clear. The question at issue is whether the leaders of the opposing groups will actually march down that route, we very much wish to see them do so.

QUESTION:

Mr. Prime Minister, the Baltic States is considered during all the European structures as a security question but at the same time in Western countries sometimes we hear about some neutrality or special status of the Baltic States because of the neighbourhood of Russia. What is your opinion about these things?

PRIME MINISTER:

NATO itself is developing a Partnership for Peace proposal which stretches straight through to Russia and includes Russia. We very much wish Russia to take a full part in the Partnership for Peace. That is a stepping stone. We need to deal with the realities of what needs to be done to avoid awakening old fears across Europe.

Of course NATO is going to enlarge - that is no longer in question - but NATO is going to enlarge cautiously and carefully and I think no-one should be in any doubt about that. There is a great deal to be done. It isn't just a political point, it is a military point as well. One needs to ensure that the circumstances are satisfactory for a cautious but worthwhile and continuing enlargement of NATO. That will take some time. In the meantime, Partnership for Peace is a very attractive and very worthwhile stepping stone.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

We certainly see the Baltic States as part of the European family, a welcome part, and we British are very active there, for example with the Nordic countries training the Baltic peacekeeping battalion and last Monday we agreed in the Foreign Affairs Council on a mandate to open negotiations for the next agreement between the European Union and the Baltic States. As the Prime Minister has said, they are part of the Partnership for Peace; they have all three agreed to the Partnership for Peace and are working out the actual content of each Partnership agreement for each of the three countries so things are on the move and I think they will make steady progress.

PRIME MINISTER:

I had the opportunity of meeting the Baltic leaders not very long ago in Vilnius and we had the opportunity of discussing all this and how the progress forward might come and I think they are very realistic about what can be achieved and in what time-scale.

QUESTION (John Sergeant , BBC TV):

Prime Minister, can I ask you a question on the burning domestic issue and that is can you confirm that if the Government were to lose on the VAT issue you wouldn't try to make up the shortfall by increasing borrowing and are you prepared to make a last minute appeal to potential rebels not to carry out their threat because if they do so at the very least the Government would be seriously embarrassed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I hope we are going to win the vote this evening on the Budget resolution, I very much hope we are going to win; I shall no doubt learn more about that when I return to the United Kingdom later on this afternoon but the Chancellor set out the circumstances yesterday and I am going to say no more in Budapest this afternoon.

QUESTION (RAI ITALIAN TV, CHANNEL 3):

Mr. Prime Minister, do you believe an arms sale embargo should be lifted in Bosnia and in your talk with President Yeltsin what has emerged as an obstacle to developing a common document on Bosnia which is not coming out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me deal with the first point of lifting the arms embargo. We don't believe lifting the arms embargo would be a wise development; we don't believe that would aid peace. We do believe that lifting the arms embargo would make it impossible for the United Nations humanitarian mission to safely continue and if the humanitarian mission were to leave that is going to have very profound effects for a lot of people and I think it highly appropriate for people to think what would be the position on the ground if the arms embargo were lifted and the United Nations troops were to move. The single simple question to ask oneself is does that bring peace nearer or does that bring peace further away and I think the answer to that question is self-evident; it takes peace further away, it puts more people's lives at risk, many more people would be killed and who knows to what extent the war then would spread.

I don't believe it is appropriate to have a situation where United Nations troops have had to go, the arms embargo has been lifted and one then sees a much wider war perhaps spreading southwards. Who can tell what precisely would happen? It is conceivable that events will force us down that path but we will not go down it willingly because we think it will add to the bloodshed and not end the bloodshed and it has been our determination to end it from the start of this conflict.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

On the second point, efforts were made to agree a separate document on Bosnia and our delegation tried to reconcile different points of view so there could be a document. My understanding, unless there has been some breakthrough in the last ten minutes, is it has not been possible to agree such a document. Our guidance is therefore the decisions of the Contact Group, the Security Council and indeed under the Security Council of the North Atlantic Council.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't speak for the last ten minutes but it certainly wasn't agreed fifteen minutes ago.

QUESTION (Ian Black, Guardian):

Can I ask you, Prime Minister, whether you are not becoming increasingly concerned about the possible damage to relations between Britain and the United States over the situation in Bosnia? We have had the argument within NATO about bombing and we had Senator Dole in London last week. Is this not going to get worse and worse as long as this situation continues?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think when people look at differences between the United Kingdom and the United States these days they are confusing differences between Congress and the British Government rather than the American Administration and the British Government.

The American Administration I think now very largely shares our view about the dangers of unilateral lift and what in practice would happen as a result of unilateral lift, so there are no strains of the sort that many people were forecasting some time ago between the British and the United States administrations about this. If I may borrow the word I used a few moments ago, we are both frustrated about the lack of progress, we both want to see a negotiated settlement. I think we both now recognise the dangers of unilateral lift.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I had a long talk last night with Warren Christopher before he went off to Damascus and I must say I felt quite strongly at the end of this talk that we and the United States, after a period of disagreement, were now actually moving in outline and in detail in the same direction. Since the Contact Group agreement on Friday night, the United States has had its contacts with some of the parties, we have had our contacts with some of the parties, we have compared notes, we were all saying the same thing so this is now an effort which we and the Administration are pursuing together. There are voices outside the Administration just as there are voices in Britain who take a different line but the two governments are working closely together.

QUESTION (Peter Oborne, Evening Standard):

Mr. Major, at the weekend your Cabinet colleague, Peter Lilley, said that the group of nine should have the whip reinstated at once. Do you share that view?

PRIME MINISTER:

He didn't say that. What Peter Lilley said was that there was no choice but to withdraw the whip and he hoped colleagues would return in due course. He didn't put a time-scale that. I hope colleagues will continue to support the Conservative Government. In due course, therefore, they will no doubt wish to return to the Conservative whip but I think you are putting words into Peter's mouth.

QUESTION (Peter Oborne, Evening Standard):

Secondly, what will you do to those who vote against the Government or abstain tonight?

PRIME MINISTER:

I made it clear that I hope colleagues will support us tonight. I don't propose to go further than that, you would be surprised if I did. I think that comes into the category of "Very good try, Peter!"

QUESTION (National Review):

Back to Bosnia for a minute, Sir. In your speech yesterday you emphasised that no side in the conflict there can expect to gain a military victory. Isn't that precisely what is happening at the moment with the Serbs occupying 70% of the land there? If, therefore, the British contingent of the UN peace force is brought home, what danger remains, what justification exists for still not allowing the Bosnian government the right to defend themselves through lifting the arms embargo once that danger has been removed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you are drawing two things together that don't necessarily follow. I think it is very likely that if not the British but the United Nations protection forces were to withdraw, then very probably the arms embargo would be lifted but that is a separate proposition from lifting the arms embargo with United Nations troops in the middle of Bosnia and of course there are different things happening in different parts of Bosnia - there are Bosnian advances in parts of central Bosnia.

One of the things that has bedevilled this whole enterprise from the start is that when one has moved close to what one thought might be a conceivable diplomatic settlement, one side or other has sensed some territorial advantage of the weeks or months that lie immediately ahead and at that stage the diplomatic settlement has slipped away and of course that has happened on a roller coaster basis time and time again.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary, what kind of message do you think it delivers to people living in Europe that this Conference apparently is unable to agree even on words that should be spoken about the greatest crisis on the Continent which is the war in Bosnia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It would have been very agreeable, we may yet get an agreement but we hadn't as at fifteen minutes ago; it would have been very agreeable to have had one. I think what they would be better advised to look at is the large number of people in Europe who are anxious for a settlement, who have been sufficiently anxious for a settlement not only to put diplomatic effort into achieving a settlement but troops and humanitarian activities on the ground to try and promote a settlement and ease the suffering until there is a settlement but there are people with sharply differing views here and that is why it has not been possible thus far to agree a form of words.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I don't honestly think that many people are sitting up looking at their watches and saying: "When is the CSCE going to produce its document on Bosnia?" That is not what is preoccupying people really. The CSCE has to adopt everything by unanimity and that does put a limitation on what it can agree but what has happened - and quite dramatically - over the last few weeks is that all kinds of different ideas about how you can achieve peace in Bosnia have been examined and at least for the moment dismissed. There is no mention in the Contact Group document of the arms embargo; no government is now pressing for that to be lifted. There is no mention of a military victory, indeed it is excluded as a possibility and President Clinton was clear about that yesterday so everyone who is seriously engaged in this matter is now talking about a negotiated peace. Then you lead into how you achieve that and of course that is extremely difficult and has frustrated everybody up to now but then you get into the sequence of events which I mentioned before which I won't repeat so there has been a lot of clearing out of ideas which don't fit the present situation and that is helpful because if you are going to seek to do the things that are necessary you have to get out of your mind the things that aren't possible.

PRIME MINISTER:

In the best-organised circumstances unanimity is not always possible.

QUESTION (Judith Dawson, Sky TV):

I was just wondering about the remarks the Russian Foreign Minister has made about the sanctions on Serbia wondering whether there can be agreement amongst the Contact Group at least that those sanctions are lifted so that you might get Mr. Milosevic to put some pressure on Mr. Karadzic to actually get them to the peace table.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Foreign Secretary met Mr. Milosevic the other day and spent an hour and a half with Mr. Kozyrev this morning so he is perhaps better placed than I am to give you an up-to-date answer.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Both Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Kozyrev believe that the international community has not sufficiently recognised President Milosevic's courage in accepting the Contact Group plan; they believe that it should be further recognised by further relief of sanctions. Alain Juppe and I have explained to both of them that that is not practicable unless there is further progress. There has been some relief as you know, there are now flights into Belgrade airport, certain events which fell under sanctions have been relieved and there is a provision for humanitarian relief but further lifting of sanctions will have to depend in practice on further progress and President Milosevic knows that.