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1991 - Mr Major’s Press Conference in Moscow

Below is Mr Major's press conference held in Moscow on Tuesday 5th March 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Perhaps I might firstly apologise to you for the fact that we have kept you waiting a few moments. I am afraid the day rather overran in one or two meetings but I hope it has not caused you too much inconvenience.

I have had a very full day here today and I think a very worthwhile one. I began with a meeting over breakfast with representatives of the Baltic States; later on I had a meeting with some prominent liberals and radicals; beyond that I had a meeting with President Gorbachev and thereafter lunch with President Gorbachev and a number of his colleagues. This afternoon I had meetings with Mr Pavlov and then with Marshal Yazov. Later on this evening I have a meeting with Mr Shevardnadze.

The centrepiece of the day was a lengthy meeting and lunch with President Gorbachev. We had an excellent talk, a long talk around four hours in total, including the discussion over luncheon. It was I think a very thorough discussion, at times an intense one, but it was good humoured and I believe producing useful and worthwhile results.

We gave priority in our discussions to the Middle East and in particular to the form of a post-war settlement in the Gulf. The most encouraging point was the willingness of the Soviet Union to go on working with the other Permanent Members of the UN Security Council in the next phase of the peace. I think that is very welcome indeed and I know will be very welcome in the West. We agreed that it was basically for the countries of the region themselves to decide what form security arrangements should take. I explained to President Gorbachev that we did not plan to station ground forces permanently in the area.  I also asked for Mr Gorbachev's help over securing the release of all British citizens held in Iraq and he kindly undertook to give me that help. We agreed on the desirability of restraint on exports to the area of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and also on caution of the export of conventional arms. And finally we agreed that Foreign Ministers should meet soon to discuss these matters.

On more general arms control issues we discussed problems on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and I explained to President Gorbachev and later to Marshal Yazov where we saw problems with that. Mr Gorbachev agreed we must find solutions jointly or, as he put it, there is no alternative.

We discussed of course the situation in the Baltic Republics. I explained to President Gorbachev the dismay that I felt and that the West generally had felt about the events in January of this year and I expressed also our hope that the way forward would be through negotiations. Mr Gorbachev contested some of the statements and decisions and comments that had been made in the West and emphasised the difficulties that he faced. He also emphasised in our discussion that he believed in a constitutional process to solve the problem of the Baltics. He emphasised also that if the Baltics followed that process then independence was a possible outcome.

In addition we discussed a number of bilateral issues and over lunch President Gorbachev gave me a very full and very interesting account of political and economic reform in the Soviet Union. He emphasised very strongly indeed that he was personally committed to continue with that reform despite the difficulties and setbacks that inevitably there have been and will be.

During our discussions I invited Mr Gorbachev to visit the United Kingdom and I hope he will be able to do so soon, he was happy to accept the invitation. He also returned the invitation by inviting me to return on an official visit to the Soviet Union so I think there will be plenty of opportunities in the future for more bilateral contacts and I welcome that without reservation.

To sum up therefore I think we have had a very worthwhile day and some very good discussions which opened the way for us to work together on a future political settlement in the Middle East and also to resolve the remaining difficulties over the Conventional Forces Agreement. I believe on the back of that, and I hope this belief is reciprocated, that it has been a worthwhile day. Our personal relations were easy, I found it both an enjoyable as well as an interesting day and in short I believe we can say that the united Kingdom can continue to do business with Mr Gorbachev in a very satisfactory manner and I hope our future contacts will remain as cordial as they were today and that they will come about frequently.

That I think summarises what we have been talking about today but I will endeavour to answer any questions you may have for a few moments.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Mr Prime Minister, what was the conclusion as to the situation in the Middle East and what is your vision of the mechanism to solve this problem? And what is your view concerning the security situation in that region and will there be a need for guarantees from great powers?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in terms of the Middle East our first agreed conclusion was that we had to take into account first and foremost the views of the states that actually existed in the region so that we could see in what way we might meet their own security concerns.

It was in that context that I emphasised that I certainly did not see a standing British or indeed Western army in the region though it was entirely possible at the end of discussions that the Arab nations themselves might have their own standing army. But we did agree that that was something that could only be determined after there had been greater discussions with the Middle East countries and after we could take into account the wider interests of the region. So we cannot yet reach a final conclusion on that but I think we are agreed that all members of the Permanent Five must continue to work together to ensure that we do find a satisfactory conclusion. The mechanism for reaching an agreement remains open. Certainly there will be a good deal of bilateral contact, there will also be discussions of Foreign Ministers that will take place in the not too distant future and certainly at the conclusion of the conflict the Security Council no doubt will wish to express its own views. But the mechanism for reaching a settlement in the Middle East remains to be determined and cannot be determined until we know more about the individual views of member states in the area.

QUESTION:

What did you talk with Mr Yazov about conventional arms in Europe, what explanations did he give about this subject and did you talk with Mr Pavlov about his accusations to the Western banks and did you discuss the Palestinian issue with Mr Gorbachev?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the third point first, the question of a Palestinian settlement, we did discuss that in our talks this morning as part of our general discussion on the Middle East and we agreed that now the Gulf conflict had ceased it was a priority in that area to try and find a settlement to the Palestinian problem and one that all countries would wish to pursue. There are a variety of ways in which it can be pursued, none of those are yet entirely clear as to which may turn out to be the best. But that it is a priority and that the prospects for a settlement are brighter today than they have been for some time was something we were able to agree about this morning.

The discussions I had with Marshal Yazov about the CFE Agreement largely related to the problems we have seen about resubordination. We discussed that at some length, I expressed my concerns, the Defence Minister set out his response to that and I think it was a most useful and worthwhile exchange.

I spent most of my time with the Prime Minister, Mr Pavlov, in discussing the economy rather than the individual comment that he made some time ago which I think has not been repeated. And so I felt it more prudent to discuss the wider issue of how the economy is being run, what needs to be done to carry reform forward, and I found that a most worthwhile exercise.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, could you say which parts of your talks were most intense and why?

PRIME MINISTER:

There were several parts of my talks with President Gorbachev that were intense. There were intense discussions over the Baltic States, a matter of very considerable importance; there were intense discussions over a number of other matters - I don't think I want to elaborate all of them.

When I say "intense", I do not mean ill-humoured; I mean there were some frank and free exchanges; it was a candid but good-natured discussion.

QUESTION (NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE):

On the question of the Baltics, did Mr. Gorbachev have any reaction to the referendum that was carried on there over the weekend and when you say that he seemed committed to the constitutional path in allowing the Baltics to leave in a constitutional manner, did he say what he means by that? Did he mean the law that takes several years and several votes by several different parliaments to get out of the Soviet Union or did he seem to see a more flexible way?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think Mr. Gorbachev saw that as an immediate outcome. He pointed out that a constitutional path could lead to independence for the Baltic States and we discussed that at some lengths.

QUESTION:

And the referendum?

PRIME MINISTER:

We touched upon that; it is a matter of fact that the referendum has taken place and the outcome of the referendum is known; there was not a great deal more that could be said other than to acknowledge that fact.

QUESTION (IN RUSSIAN):

For how long do you plan to continue your occupation of the Iraqi territory and how does it correspond to the European civilisation? That is my first question.

Second, will the Security Council take a decision to use force against Israel in order to liberate the Syrian and Lebanese territory?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't regard us as occupying the Iraqi territory - it was the Iraqis who occupied the Kuwaiti territory; they declined to leave the Kuwaiti territory despite the Security Council Resolutions, despite having innumerable opportunities of doing so between August and January 15 and despite having opportunities to do so after January 15.

The British forces will leave Iraq very speedily. As I indicated a few moments ago in my Statement, we have no intention of occupying Iraq, no intention of doing that whatsoever. There will be no standing army and the British forces and other Allied forces will leave. Neither is there any suggestion of changing the boundaries of Iraq - they are sacrosanct and they will remain so.

So I do not agree with the way in which you put your question but the answer to it is that Western forces will not be there for a very great deal of time. There is an immense amount of clearing up and preparation to be done but they are not going to remain there as an occupying force. The parallel. I think you draw is not one that I would accept.

QUESTION:

My second question is is there any possibility of the Security Council calling for the use of force against Israel so that it liberates and withdraws from all Arab territories?

PRIME MINISTER:

The question of the Palestinian problem in the wider sense is one of the matters that hope to be dealt with during the discussions on the Middle East and the position is that it will be discussed and dealt with in terms of Resolution 242 on the basis of peace for land. That was and is the situation.

MR. WHITE (GUARDIAN):

Prime Minister, you seem to be encouraged by what you have learned from the Soviet Prime Minister in your talks [indistinct] Soviet Union continued to play a constructive part. I wonder, on balance, on one or two of the main areas of discussion - the Baltics and economic political reform in the Soviet Union - have you come away more encouraged or less encouraged? You seemed to be suggesting there is quite a gap between what the Baltic States themselves want in terms of the negotiations and what Mr. Gorbachev has said that he was willing to [indistinct].

PRIME MINISTER:

There is still a gap, of course there is still a gap but I think there is agreement as to how that gap should be bridged. It has to be bridged through negotiations and Mr. Gorbachev did indicate today that at the end of the negotiations through a constitutional process the prospect of independence was there. That, I think, is a worthwhile and welcome reassurance - I hope the Baltic States will accept it as such. I think to that extent I do find myself encouraged about it.

On the question of the economic problems and perestroika in the widest aspects, there is absolutely no doubt in what Mr. Gorbachev said today that he is committed to the continuation of the economic reforms. Clearly, they are going to be lengthy and they are going to be difficult and I have no doubt there will be setbacks but I must say he was compelling in his assertion that he was determined to press on with those reforms. That certainly is encouraging though I don't think anybody would have any doubt at all about the difficulties that lie ahead in doing so.

QUESTION (CANADIAN BROADCASTING):

Did you get any guarantees from President Gorbachev that the Soviet Union will not resume arms shipments to Iraq? Also, the Soviet peace initiative was met by criticism in some quarters in the West; has it raised questions in your mind as to Moscow's motives and has it damaged Moscow's relationship in any way with your country or with the West or with other members of the coalition?

PRIME MINISTER:

The straightforward answer to the first question is “No!". The answer to the second question is: No, it has not damaged the relationship with the West. Whenever the Soviet Union went back to the Security Council, it supported the Security Council Resolutions right up to and including the last few days and that was very welcome and I think the nature of discussions we have had today, the fact that I have invited Mr. Gorbachev back to the United Kingdom and he has invited me to come back to the Soviet Union again, illustrates that our relationship remains good.

ROBIN OAKLEY (THE TIMES):

Prime Minister, did Mr. Gorbachev agree with your frequently-expressed opinion that Saddam Hussein's continuation in power would gravely hamper efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East?

Secondly, will you be making any attempt to restrain both Saudis and Kuwaitis now in their treatment of Palestinians in the interests of a wider settlement in the Middle East?

PRIME MINISTER:

President Gorbachev did not express a view in the terms you put it to me about Saddam Hussein but I think there is no doubt that he recognises where the majority blame - the complete blame in fact - for the conflict in the Middle East has itself arisen over the period of the last few months.

Of course, there is a necessity for everyone to make sure that there is no ill treatment of Palestinians at the conclusion of the conflict. That is a point that we have already made to everybody in the region and we will continue to make it.

ALISTAIR CAMPBELL:

Prime Minister [indistinct] chances of Mr. Gorbachev's political survival?

PRIME MINISTER:

He is a very formidable man, Mr. Gorbachev, no question about that; a formidable politician with a huge range of achievements behind him. I knew that before I came, I know it now. I think he is no less formidable having talked to him for four hours than I did before I came.

THE IRISH TIMES:

I notice you said that you met some radical leaders this morning but clearly Mr. Yeltsin was not among them. Would you care to say how you see Mr. Yeltsin's role in the political evolution here in the Soviet Union and did you consider it impolitic to meet him today?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I did not consider it impolitic to meet him and I hope at some stage in the not too distant future that I will have the opportunity of meeting him. As you saw from the programme I set out this morning, it was fairly crowded and because of other events I am only able on this occasion to stay here for one day and must be on a plane very shortly. That is the reason I did not meet Mr. Yeltsin. I think I had better express views about Mr. Yeltsin after I have met him rather than before.

QUESTION (JERUSALEM NEWSPAPER):

Are you going to support a Palestinian state after the Gulf war?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are certainly keen to see that there is a settlement of the Palestinian problem and as I said a few moments ago, that will be on the basis of Resolution 242. I hope that will be something that will enable all the appropriate parties in the Middle East to negotiate satisfactorily and reach a conclusion. I do not presuppose that that will either be easy or necessarily speedy but I do repeat what I said a few moments ago: I think the prospect of getting a settlement now is better than it has been before and we must pursue it vigorously - that is certainly what we intend to do.