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1991 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with President Bush

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Bush, held in Bermuda on Saturday 16th March 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just say by way of introduction, we have had some extremely useful discussions this morning covering a very wide area. I think they have come at a very appropriate time at the end of the Gulf conflict, there is a great deal to discuss, a great deal to have learned from the conflict, and it also gave me the opportunity of expressing to the President the tremendous admiration that is felt in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for the remarkable way in which he led this particular enterprise.

Amongst the matters we were able to discuss this morning were of course the aftermath of the Gulf, the general position of security in the Middle East, present circumstances in the Soviet Union, the GATT round, the developing situation in South Africa, arms control and an interim report on Secretary Baker's talks in the Soviet Union. So it was a fairly wide agenda but I will not elaborate on it now, I will invite the President to say a few words and then perhaps we can take your questions.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Mr Prime Minister, all I want to do is to thank you for the hospitality, thank the Governor General of Bermuda and of course the Premier and say we have enjoyed it. I agree with you that these talks are very very helpful and we are determined, I think it is fair to say, that we are determined now to go forward and each country try to be a catalyst for peace, building on our success in the Gulf. So thank you Sir and I am just delighted to be with you once again.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (CNN):

In Saddam Hussein's speech he said the insurgency in the south had been crushed but continued in the north and he also seemed to be issuing a very strong threat once again to the Kurds saying that if they persisted they would be crushed by those who succeeded them?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I have learned long ago not to comment on something that I have not heard or have not authoritatively read, but there is dissension inside Iraq, that is a matter that we are not involved in, and I would simply repeat that Saddam's credibility remains at an all time low ebb as far as the United States is concerned.

QUESTION:

Do you see any role for the British or the Americans forces intervening militarily in Iraq?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I do not, that would be going beyond our mandate. I will say this, that at the tenth meeting certain arrangements were made and certain ground rules spelt out, British and US commanders agreeing, the Saudis and all the coalition forces agreeing in telling Iraq that certain things should not happen - movement of aircraft for example - and so they should not violate the conditions that they agreed to. But having said that, none of us want to move forces into Baghdad, frankly we don’t want any more fighting but they know what the ground rules are and they ought to play by those rules and live by them.

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no more to be said, I think that is precisely it.

QUESTION:

Mr President, in Saddam's speech he also indicated that he was willing to set up some kind of multiparty system, almost verging on democracy, what do you make of that kind of talk from Saddam Hussein and would that be something that the United States could live with, could Saddam Hussein stay in power in Baghdad under that kind of arrangement?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I would find it very difficult to see a situation under which we would have normalised relations with Saddam Hussein still in power, his credibility is zilch, zero and if he wants to talk about this, fine, but what people are looking for I think is full compliance with United Nations resolutions, it is complying with the ceasefire terms and I do not know what this speech is about, I simply cannot comment on it, but if he is proclaiming that Iraq will be a democratic nation, fine, but I would want to see proof of that, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you mentioned the report of Secretary Baker, what conclusions do you draw about future relations with the Soviet Union in view of the apparent lack of progress on control, both CFE and START?

PRIME MINISTER:

Insofar as we are concerned, Secretary Baker reaffirmed what I said to Mr Gorbachev a few days ago about the resubordination of the large amounts of Soviet military to the Navy, I think Mr Gorbachev has taken the point, it is a matter he will clearly have to look at. His military are a good deal more hard line about that matter than I think he is but I think he now understands the absolute imperative of sticking to the CFE agreement that he signed. On START I think there is a general wish to proceed with the START talks again and we must hope that that proves to be possible. But we must make sure in my judgment that the CFE agreement itself is actually enacted before one can go too far on START.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I can add to that because the Baker/Gorbachev meeting and Baker/Bessmertnykh meeting sustained very much what the Prime Minister has just said came out of his meeting, so the Soviet position has been, I think the Prime Minister expressed it very well and Jim Baker made clear, as did the Prime Minister in his meetings, that the naval infantry question must be resolved and we have got to go forward in the CFE agreement along the lines that we thought we were entering into.

QUESTION:

What kind of steps do you think Iraq needs to take in order for the economic sanctions to be enlisted and is the supervised destruction of their chemical weapons stockpile one of the steps that you think has to be taken?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly would like to see the supervised destruction of their chemical weapons, I think that is extremely important for future security in the Middle East. There are a raft of matters, all of which I think spring out of the Security Council resolutions of recent months, that will need to be incorporated in the ceasefire proposals. There is a considerable amount we need to see. I think we do need to see for example the destruction of the chemical weapons, that is certainly the case. I think there is a good deal else we need to see, we need to make it absolutely clear, and it needs to be absolutely clear from the Iraqis, that they actually recognise the position that now exists in Kuwait and that that is going to be a permanent recognition, we need some assurances on that. I think we have to look at wider issues as well, we will certainly have to look at the question of arms control in the area, that is a matter that will need to be developed I think very probably amongst the Permanent Five though there are other mechanisms for doing it.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

The only thing I could add to that is that some arrangements for peace keeping, perhaps a role for the United Nations, perhaps a role for an Arab force, but there are a lot of details that have to follow but the Prime Minister clipped off the major concerns that we have and I think I will sense here that our coalition is united on this.

PRIME MINISTER:

One might actually add to that of course the release of Kuwaiti detainees and perhaps some hypothecation of oil revenues in order to meet some of the losses and costs that have been incurred in Kuwait.

QUESTION:

There seems to be a growing discussion in Europe about a defence unit for the security of Europeans. What I'm wondering is whether, Mr. Bush, you see this as an exclusion of the U.S. and how you feel that may affect NATO? Because that's been its traditional role. And Mr. Prime Minister, what's your thoughts on it?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I think I would start by saying that certainly in the conversation that we had today there are no differences in terms of where the UK and the United States stand. I do not think the United Kingdom is foreseeing the pulling out from our responsibility for security by the United States and so I had discussions on this with President Mitterrand and there have been some nuances of difference perhaps not necessarily between the French and the United States but between some in Europe and the United States and I that think they are manageable differences.

The United States has a key role, we think that we performed that role adequately in the past and we have every intention of fulfilling what is in our national security interests in the future. And I think a presence where we continue to have a strong NATO for example is in our interests. After all, though tensions are lessened there are still a lot of question marks out there. But I can say in terms of my discussions with the Prime Minister that I do not think we have differences on this point, but I will leave it to him.

PRIME MINISTER:

There are absolutely no differences at all. NATO has very successfully kept the peace in Europe since the Second World War, it has been the cornerstone of the peace and the American presence in NATO and the presence of their troops in Europe has been absolutely fundamental to the security of Europe. So we certainly would wish to see absolutely nothing that would damage that. I think what some of the Europeans are concerned about, and I think they are right to be concerned about that, is the fact that Europe will need to make a greater proportion of contribution to the communal defence of Europe but I think that is a contribution that will have to be channelled through NATO and there is no difference whatsoever between the United States and Britain on that point.

QUESTION:

Both of you said you don't want to see any more fighting in Iraq. I'm wondering, how do you intend to enforce the terms of the tent agreement? Would that be just another thing under the umbrella of lifting economic sanctions, or do you have something else in mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do not think we want to go into detail about that, we have made it very clear to the Iraqis what we expect them to do, I think we must wait for them to do it, it is our expectation that they both will and should.

QUESTION:

Are you ruling out military action?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

We are not ruling anything in or out but we are making clear, as General Schwarzkopf did yesterday, that they must abide by agreements made and there are many agreements in the future that we have not ironed out, many provisions in the future that we expect Iraq will comply with, the Prime Minister having set out a very good litany right here. So we are not trying to elevate the chance of further military action, when we said ceasefire we ceased firing and we want to see that formalised and that is what we are approaching and I will not go into hypothesis on that.

QUESTION (Eleanor Goodman):

A question first about the roles for Britain and the United States as catalysts for peace. Do you see this as two separate roles or is there a specific role for Britain in that and a specific role for the United States?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I don't look at it that way but we have separate initiatives. For example, the Prime Minister went over and amongst his talks in the Middle East itself he began exploring avenues for peace. Secretary Baker is doing that now on the trip that he took. Now I guess he is on his way to Turkey. On each step of the way, each of us will be exploring and then we will have talks like this.

There is going to be probably some United Nations role to play; there is going to be bilateral relations between ourselves - I am speaking now for the United States - and the State of the Israel; we have communications now and contact with Syria - I happen to think that that can be catalytic for peace.

So we are not talking about an assignment to the United States to do A, B and C and for the UK to do what follows on X, Y and Z or vice versa and we had talks with Mr. Mitterrand about this.

What we are trying to do is to say: “Look! We now have a renewed Western credibility, certainly Coalition Force credibility, and let us use that to try to bring peace to the Lebanon, try to bring peace to the Israel-Palestine area, the West Bank, etc. and try to bring peace, security and stability to the Gulf”.

There isn't one formula yet and I don't think there will be a single formula until a lot more consultation has taken place. Some have suggested the instant convening of an international conference. The policy of the United States has been a conference at an appropriate time might be useful - that has been our policy for the last eleven years - but we are not going to urge that at this point until we see that it would be productive. We don't want to have a conference and some people fail to show up if presence there at the conference is an absolute sine qua non for success.

So we are going to just keep talking, keep consulting but not tarry. I do think that we ought to seize the moment and I know that is the goal of the United States and I gather that after further consultations this morning that that is the role of the UK.

QUESTION:

Mr. President, you speak of the Coalition Force credibility. The Soviets are not part of that Coalition. Secretary Baker met with the Soviets in the last couple of days, you two have discussed the Soviet role in the new Middle East. What is a valid role for the Soviets now, not being a member of that Coalition and just a member of the United Nations? How far do we go?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

You appropriately pointed on the United Nations. The Soviet Union state remains solidly with the United Kingdom, the United States and others in the United Nations. Had that not been the case, obviously the United Nations would not have had the positive role that it had.

I gather from just a preliminary report - not talking to him but a preliminary report - that Mr. Zoellick passed along to me and to the Prime Minister that Jim Baker felt that after talks with Gorbachev and Bessmertnykh, the Soviets wanted to still play a constructive role. They have interests in the Middle East. We don't view this as something that is against us and so true, they were not in the Coalition in the sense of having forces but they worked very cooperatively with us in the United Nations and inasmuch as there should probably be some UN role - perhaps the blue helmets along some peace-keeping line - we want to continue to work with the Soviets; we want to continue to keep that cooperation.

So I don't think their failure to have troops on the ground in the Middle East - which we did not ask them to do incidentally  - is a detriment to their playing a useful role for peace. They know a lot of the characters there. I would love to see them improve relations with the State of Israel - I think if they did that, that could be a very important point in how this peace is brought about.

After the Baker talks - and again, I would defer to the Prime Minister who did have his own talks with Mr. Gorbachev on that - I see them as still wanting to play a constructive - not obstruction - but constructive role with whatever follows on.

PRIME MINISTER:

I can certainly confirm that. In the discussions I had with Mr. Gorbachev less than a fortnight ago, he made that perfectly clear in perfectly clear terms, that he wished to play a constructive role in an ongoing settlement in the Middle East and I see no reason to doubt his bona fides in that respect.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, if a formal cease-fire cannot be arranged until Saddam stops deploying his remaining forces, what does that mean for the timetable for the return of the British forces back to the UK and if American forces do become involved, would British forces become involved as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are too many premises there that may not come about to be precise. I don't know precisely when we will have a ceasefire. We are looking at the moment at what a cease-fire Resolution might contain and it may be quite a substantive Resolution - there is quite a lot to get in it - and I do not think we can address those secondary questions until we have that Resolution. It may be that we will have one broadly ready to begin presenting at the end of next week but I think there can be no certainty about that.

At the moment, the return of British troops continues. We had Security Council Resolutions to meet when we sent the troops there; those Security Council Resolutions have been met and the troops are now returning home. But I think the other premises you raised cannot be answered at this stage.