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1991 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview on the Gulf War - 19th January 1991

Below is Mr Major's doorstep interview given in London on Saturday 19th January 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Good Morning. I thought I would just try and bring you up-to-date with some of the things that have been happening this morning and then I will endeavour to answer any questions you may have in a few moments.

I think the matter that has been concerning us most over the last few hours has been the second missile attack on Israel from Iraq. I think it is extremely deplorable, unforgivable in any sense, that this particular attack has taken place. I think it draws a very sharp contrast between the nature of conflict that we perceive and the nature of conflict that Saddam Hussein has in mind. It is very noticeable that the allied forces have been using precision bombing techniques, and often their pilots have gone to some personal risk to avoid civilian injury and to concentrate on military targets.

By contrast, of course, Saddam Hussein has now twice sent extremely dangerous weapons into the middle of a built-up area where there are a large number of civilians in a country that is not a party to this particular conflict. I think that is quite literally an act of terror and will be seen as such.

I have sent two messages to Prime Minister Shamir over the last few hours: firstly, to express my sympathy for this second outrageous attack; and secondly, to say that I hope, even despite this second provocation, that it would be an act of great statesmanship if Israel did not retaliate, I think it would be seen as a sign of great strength and not weakness. And he will know of course that the allied forces are seeking to find and destroy those Scud missile launchers as an act of immediate priority and that of course will continue.

You may care to know that the Foreign Office summoned the Iraqi Ambassador this morning, firstly to indicate clearly our total sense of outrage at the activities of the Iraqis in launching these missiles, and secondly of course to remind the Iraqis of their obligations under the Geneva Convention in terms of prisoners of war. And we asked specifically for an assurance from the Iraqis that any prisoners of war would be granted all that is entitled to them under the Geneva Convention and that we would be informed at an early date of any prisoners they may have. I hope and expect that to happen and we will continue to press the Iraqis to make sure that it does.

I had a conversation last evening with our Commander in the Middle East, General Sir Peter de la Billiere. It was a lengthy conversation, I spoke to him firstly to let him know of the state of opinion in the United Kingdom and the enormous support there was here at home and in Parliament for the activities of his men out there in the Gulf and to express my admiration particularly for the way in which the RAF pilots and back-up crews had performed their duties over recent days. Sir Peter briefed me on precisely what was going on out there, reassured me about the morale of the troops, and it was a most useful and worthwhile conversation. I expect to be in contact with him regularly over the period of the next few days and I know he will also be having conversations with the Secretary of State for Defence, Tom King.

At the end of the first few days of this conflict, I think we can say that it has gone satisfactorily. You will have seen for yourselves the nature of the conflict and the extent of success that we have had, I think all that is very satisfactory. But I think it does have to be seen against the sheer size and scale of the war machine that Iraq has assembled over the period of the last decade. Despite all the damage that has been done, there is a great deal still that needs to be done. They have a very substantial military arsenal, a large number of planes, a considerable amount of armour, a large number of men, very substantial and sophisticated equipment and telecommunications installations. The air attacks upon them have been very successful thus far and I anticipate that they will continue for some time to come.

It has been a good start, undoubtedly, but there is a very considerable amount still to be done. What I think is becoming totally clear, clearer as hour succeeds hour, is that Iraq cannot win this conflict but there is still some considerable way to go before they have lost.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

QUESTION (Michael Brunson, ITN):

Prime Minister, you will have heard that Mr Arens said that Israel will retaliate. Do you understand that and when you talk of restraint would you accept that they may want to take some limited military action of their own?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course I understand that. The provocation that has been offered to the state of Israel over the last two days could hardly be over-stated. On two occasions they have had a missile attack whilst they are not a combatant in this particular war and in the midst of a civilian area. The state of Israel have a perfect right in international law to respond and I think their restraint thus far has been admirable. I think it would be extremely helpful if that restraint continued but I understand the pressures that the Israeli government are under.

QUESTION:

Are you confident that all the Scud missile launchers can be found and destroyed?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have had a considerable amount of success thus far in finding them and destroying them. Both the United States Air Force and ours have destroyed Scud missile launchers. We cannot of course be precisely sure how many the Iraqis have, they clearly have a substantial number left, the mission to seek them out and destroy them will continue until we are satisfied they have all been found and destroyed.

QUESTION:

Do you welcome the undertakings from the Egyptians and Syrians, which come as a surprise I imagine?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think they are welcome, I think they may come less of a surprise to us than to some others. The Egyptians and the Syrians have been very resolute throughout this whole affair, that was very plain to me when I met President Mubarak in Cairo just 10 days or so ago.

QUESTION:

In view of the concern you have expressed today again, will you be in direct contact with Prime Minister Shamir today or tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have sent him two messages over the period of the last few hours, it may well be there will be a further message, but at the moment there is no need for a further message at this moment.

QUESTION:

What is your reaction to the fact that a British plane has now taken out one of the Scud missiles?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am delighted that they have done so, it was found by a British reconnaissance plane and destroyed by the British, I am delighted that that is so. The Americans have had very considerable success, it is now clear that the British are having success as well and we, too, will concentrate on that. It is very important for a large number of self-evident reasons that those Scud missile launchers are destroyed and destroyed as soon as possible.

QUESTION:

Are you feeling confident?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am in absolutely no doubt about the outcome of this conflict, there is absolutely no doubt about that. The outcome of this conflict if Saddam Hussein does not withdraw is that Iraq will be defeated, there is no conceivable doubt about that, but it may take a while before that is satisfactorily concluded.

QUESTION:

Are we talking now about weeks? The initial euphoria has obviously gone from people's minds but should people be settling into thinking now of a conflict in weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

I never indulged myself in that initial euphoria. It was always clear to me that the sheer size and scale of their military arsenal meant that it was likely that it would be sometime before this matter was resolved. You can never be sure in the fog of this sort of conflict precisely how long it will take, we do not know whether the morale of the Iraqi troops will crack, we simply cannot tell about that. But on the understanding that that does not happen then it may be a considerable time before the matter is satisfactorily concluded..

QUESTION:

Can you define for us exactly your war aims, you said in the Commons that you hoped that Saddam Hussein would be gone, I think indicating that you hoped internally something might happen to him, but is it simply to liberate Kuwait or is it to do much more damage?

PRIME MINISTER:

The aims are set out quite clearly in the Security Council Resolutions, those are the war aims of all of us and I have nothing to add to that.

QUESTION:

You are stressing again today in the clearest terms that people should not think this is going to be a short affair. Does the fact that you keep on stressing this point show that perhaps you are more concerned than you are letting on?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it does not mean that at all, it is all going very satisfactorily. What it does illustrate is the sheer size and scale of the armour, the men, the airfields, the planes, that the Iraqis have. That is a very considerable arsenal, they have devoted a huge amount of their resources throughout the period of the last decade to building up that arsenal and although there is no way that they will be able to win this conflict, it will take a while before we can fully destroy the arsenal that they have got unless they surrender at some stage before that. And that is the warning that I am making clear to people, they ought not to be concerned about the fact that this conflict continues, it was always likely that it would have to continue for a significant period of time.