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1991 - Mr Major’s Statement from Chequers

Below is Mr Major's statement from Chequers on Sunday 24th February 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

I think as you all know the land battle started at an early time this morning. It is a massive encounter and it will not cease until the Iraqis have been completely driven out of Kuwait. I very much appreciate the diplomatic efforts that have been put in hand over the last few days to try and avoid this particular conflict. But they have failed and they have failed because at no time was the Iraqi leadership prepared to accept the Security Council resolutions in full, at no time were they prepared to do so.

We have also seen in the last few days that there was neither time nor reason to delay the land battle any longer, no reason because the Security Council resolutions were not going to be met, and no time because of what is now happening in Kuwait city. There are now something over 200 oil wells that have been wantonly set alight on the direct instructions of the Iraqi leadership. That number is rising hour by hour. The Iraqis are engaged upon the systematic destruction of Kuwait city. We have repeated reports of young men and women being rounded up and executed in Kuwait city, murdered perhaps would be a more apt word for what is going on there. And we also have reports of large numbers of Kuwaitis being herded together on trucks and taken out of Kuwait to Iraq, presumably to be used as a bargaining counter in some discussions at the end of the conflict.

I think it is clear therefore that the nature of the regime with which we are dealing is not a regime whose words you can rely upon or with whom you can deal in the normal manner. The land campaign has therefore begun.

I spoke at length yesterday afternoon not only to the leaders of a number of members of the allied coalition but also to the Commander of our forces in the Middle East, General de la Billiere. He was confident of what was to come, he was well prepared and assures me that the troops were well prepared. He is also well aware of the risks and the dangers that will need to be overcome in the next few days.

I know you will not expect me to give you any indication at this early stage of how the conflict is going. I cannot do so, it would not be in the interests of our troops to do so and they of course must be our prime concern. As soon as it is possible to say something more concrete about that then of course we will do so.

If I may, I would like to add one final word to the families of those men who are engaged in this conflict in the Gulf. It will not, I believe, be a long conflict but it may be a fierce one. There is no doubt in my mind that it is an absolutely justifiable conflict and that we will win it. As soon as that is confirmed we will bring home the men who have been engaged in it at the earliest possible time.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

[Indistinct] time and time again, we have had quite differing signals from the Iraqis, we simply cannot rely on what they have said. The whole world will have noticed in the last few days the quite distinct voices that came out of Moscow with the negotiations that Tariq Aziz was carrying out there and the speeches that Saddam Hussein was making in Baghdad, they were wholly different. As for the future, that will have to take care of itself.

QUESTION:

What were your personal feelings this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very sorry that it has come to this. A tremendous amount of effort has gone in over many months by a large number of people to ensure that we did not come to this particular conflict so I am saddened that it has done so. But I must say I am absolutely convinced that there is no choice and that it is right. If the Iraqis were to succeed, if they were to get away with what they have sought to do over the last few months, then I think that would be intolerable not just for Kuwait but for the rest of the world. So I think there is an inevitability about what is happening at the moment and I am absolutely clear in my mind that it will end successfully.

QUESTION:

Saddam Hussein has been defiant yet again in his tone, what do you think of his tone that he seems to be continuing with again this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Arrogant, unrealistic, and it must soon dawn even on him that he is going to lose and lose big.

QUESTION:

Now that the land war has started, how should Saddam Hussein end it, is it going to be difficult for him merely to make a statement that he intends to withdraw now that the forces are engaged? What signal does he have to give that will allow this war to end?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no sign of him giving any signal at all that it proposes to end, even this morning he has been making wholly unrealistic and wholly defiant and wholly untruthful speeches. So there is no sign from him whatsoever that it is going to end so I am in no position to forecast that. I know what the end will be, the end will be that he will lose, but how that will come about I am afraid it is impossible for me to judge at the moment.