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1991 - Mr Major’s Statement on the Gulf War - 17th January 1991

Below is Mr Major's statement on the status of the Gulf War, made in London on Thursday 17th January 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

I thought you might care to know the information that I have thus far. As you almost certainly will know, Allied forces attacked military targets in Iraq and Baghdad last night.

The operation began just before midnight our time and is a very large and continuing operation. The attack was carried out by a four-nation force - United States forces, British forces, Saudi Arabian forces and Kuwaiti forces - and it was, of course, carried out under the authority of United Nation Resolution 678.

Early indications are that it has been a very successful operation. I have just received an initial report this morning from the Secretary of State for Defence, Tom King, and from the Chief of the Defence Staff. I am pleased to tell you that at the present time I am not yet aware of any British casualties. We will provide further information on the detailed success of the operation at a later stage when that is available.

Tom King will hold a press conference later on this morning and I shall myself of course be making a Statement to the House of Commons this afternoon.

I know that everybody would share my feelings at the moment that our principal thoughts and prayers are with the troops who have been carrying out this operation and with their families who must be so concerned about the matter at home. Immense trouble has been taken of course to ensure that it is military targets that are the target of this attack and an enormous amount of effort and care has gone into ensuring that there are the minimum possible number of civilian casualties.

If I may, I will take what questions you may have and answer them insofar as I am yet able.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, may I ask you first of all would you consider a pause to allow for negotiations to take place?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. This is an ongoing operation. If Saddam Hussein were prepared to start withdrawing from Kuwait, then that is a separate matter but for the moment this is an ongoing operation. I am not prepared to risk the potential lives of British forces - and I am sure the other commanders feel the same - by a pause that would allow Saddam Hussein to regroup his forces and perhaps launch a substantial attack. I do not think that would be right and I think the security of our forces must be a matter to which we will give overriding concern.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can you tell us a little bit about your conversation with President Bush before this began? What was the sort of mood of the discussion that you had with him and what the format that you agreed, the context in which you would all work?

PRIME MINISTER:

No-one enters into an operation of this scale or of this nature lightly. I have had a considerable number of conversations with President Bush about the possibility of us needing to use force at the end of the deadline over a considerable period of time.

The final decision that we would use force if Iraq did not remove themselves from Kuwait was taken very shortly after the conclusion of the House of Commons debate on Tuesday.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you honestly believe that you have used force as a last resort and that there was no other way of getting Saddam Hussein out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. That has been our position for a long time.

Of course, the United Nations Resolution was set some time ago with a particular deadline so that there was no doubt that in international law there was a proper authority to use force after the expiry of the deadline on the 15th. I do not think Saddam Hussein could have been in any doubt at all from what has been said over recent weeks that at the expiry of that there was authority to use force and that we would find it necessary to do so to expel him from Kuwait. I am myself satisfied that that was necessary and I hope this will be a speedy and successful operation.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you have any assessment at this stage of how long military action might have to continue?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. There can be no assessment of that at this stage. We have some preliminary assessments of the damage that has been done but we will need a considerable degree of extra information before we can be precisely clear about that.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Thus far, the assessments are that a considerable amount of damage has been done but they are very preliminary assessments and we will have a good deal more information later.

QUESTION:

When did you first hear about the attack?

PRIME MINISTER:

I, of course, have known about the timing of the attack, as I said a few moments ago, from consultations I had with President Bush at the conclusion of the House of Commons debate on Tuesday. I therefore was aware of the time the attack would take place.

QUESTION:

How have you spent the night and what are your feelings now that war has started?

PRIME MINISTER:

No-one wanted this conflict. No-one can be pleased about the fact that this conflict has been necessary and I regret that as much as anyone. I have been up throughout the night; we have had an open line to the White House and there has been very considerable consultation throughout the night.

I hope now that it is clear to Iraq that the scale of the Allied operation is such that they cannot win. I hope that Saddam Hussein will now make a very swift decision that he must do what he has been invited to do by the world community for a long time - that he should get out of Kuwait and enable this matter to end swiftly and decisively.  I hope that he will do that.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, could the war be over in a matter of days?

PRIME MINISTER:

I cannot forecast that. We will prosecute this war until it comes to a successful conclusion. There is no doubt at all what the world community wants: it wants Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait and Kuwait to return to its rightful government. When that matter is concluded, the war will end but there should be no doubt about our determination to prosecute it to that end. International will is very strong; international law is quite clear; and it has been made absolutely clear by the Allies over recent weeks that that is our determination and our intention -- it remains so.

I will now leave you if I may but I will report to the House of Commons this afternoon.