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1992 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with UN Secretary General

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Boutros Ghali, in New York on Friday 31st January 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

I proposed this meeting because it seemed to me that the time was right, with a new Secretary General, with Russia taking her seat in the Security Council, it seemed to me that the time was right for the Council to meet at the highest level to reaffirm its commitment to peace-keeping and to peace-making.

There is of course a symbolic significance in the meeting, to have round the same table the Heads of State or Government of China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain for the first time in the history of the United Nations symbolises the transformation from confrontation to cooperation in the work of the organisation.

Over the last few years that transformation has enabled us to unite to free Kuwait; to bring independence to Namibia after decades of frustrated negotiations; to start the peace process in Cambodia; and to tackle other international disputes.

So to an extent this meeting was a celebration of the fact that the Charter of the United Nations has once again become the handbook, the handbook, of those whose job it is to make the peace and keep the peace, and that is the handbook that can do it.

Gone are the days, I hope forever, when the United Nations was the last body that you turned to for effective action. Now it is the first body, as we have seen only this month over Lockerbie and as we see day to day as the screw of economic sanctions is turned on Saddam Hussein and as the international commission slowly but certainly uncovers evidence of his weapons of mass destruction and then destroys them.

In a world which is more hopeful than for many years, but still unstable, we need an organisation that can settle disputes, contain conflicts and keep the peace. The United Nations is that organisation. And the reason for coming here at Head of Government level was to demonstrate our commitment to that organisation.

You will have heard the statement which I read out on behalf of members of the Council. In it we pledge ourselves to collective security, international law and our commitments under the United Nations Charter to resolve disputes peacefully, to fight against terrorism, to pursue arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and to conclude a chemical weapons convention in 1992.

That statement, as ever, is written in the polite language of diplomacy. But it contains a hard cutting edge that can be used against those who breach their obligations. The document states that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction constitutes a threat to international peace and security. That places the issue firmly within the confines of the Security Council with scope for action to that end. Member States are committed to take action to prevent the spread of technology related to weapons of mass destruction. The statement reinforces the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Authority and it commits the Council to take action in cases of violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty notified to them by the International Atomic Energy Authority.

The statement also asks the Secretary General to recommend how we can strengthen the United Nations' action in preventative diplomacy, peace-making and peace-keeping. And this includes the use of the good offices of the Secretary General.

Under Article 99 of the treaty he is authorised to bring to the attention of the Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. That article has been little used, partly because in the days of the Cold War the Secretary General's role was heavily constrained by the former Soviet Union. Those old constraints no longer apply.

The statement also includes a number of welcome references to human rights, to progress in democracy and responsive forms of government, to election monitoring, to human rights verification, and in the very last words of the declaration, to the promotion of a better life for all in larger freedom.

Those are substantial achievements. The most substantive achievement of all is that Heads of Government of countries whose arsenals could between them destroy the world have met as colleagues and partners in a common enterprise to make the world a safer place. And they did so here today under the auspices of the United Nations.

MR GHALI:

I have just a few words. I have spent only four weeks as Secretary General in this institution and I am still a beginner. But those four weeks I have spent in this organisation show: (1) that there is a political will to play a role in international affairs; (2) that the Security Council will not act unless there is a consensus and that all the decisions which have been adopted during this month have been taken by consensus, after deliberation, and this deliberation proved that we have reached a degree of democratic [Indistinct] in the Security Council.

And I just want again to thank the Prime Minister of Great Britain for this summit meeting because the summit meeting will help me in my new role, will assist me in the new function and as he mentioned Article 99, I hope not to use very often this article, but in case I will see that there is a necessity to use Article 99 I assure you that I will not hesitate to use this prerogative.

Once more I want to thank the Prime Minister of Great Britain for this summit meeting here in New York.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

QUESTION (Mr Osborne):

On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association I would like to welcome you as our guest at this press conference. In terms of a consistent worldwide peace-keeping effort, President Mitterrand suggested in his speech that a more effective role be given to the UN military staff committee and even volunteering to contribute some 1,000 peace-keeping troops to such an effort. Would the United Kingdom also support such an effort and would you also contribute troops to a peace-keeping effort. I would also like to ask the Secretary General if he would respond, does he see this as a proposal which should be encouraged in the agenda of his reforms?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think this is a proposal that should be examined, but I would prefer not to commit myself to any proposal until we have seen the Secretary General's report, we have invited him today to report, he has a very wide remit to report, to come back on what he believes is the right way for us to proceed. We know what the objectives are: better peace-keeping, better peace-making. I would prefer to see the Secretary General's report before we can make up our mind as to what particular actions, either singly or perhaps a whole cluster of actions, are necessary in order to meet that objective. This is certainly one that should be considered.

MR GHALI:

I will give my response on 1 July because according to the decisions which have been taken, I have to present my report before 1 July.

QUESTION:

Are there any significant changes in the final statement from the first draft or the second draft prepared by you. And if so, would you like to mention one or two by way of illustration?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is one of the more optimistic questions I have ever had I think. The answer is that there are not really significant changes between the drafts, there are minor changes when you have 15 draftsmen sitting round the table in order to agree a document that affects national sensitivities as well as an international commitment, there are always going to be drafting changes. And of course that was the case, some of them were additions, some of them were minor drafting changes. But there were no changes of a real and substantive nature between the earlier drafts and the later one, except that the later one is in many ways a good deal sharper and tougher in its commitments than the earlier drafts were. This is altogether a stronger, more forceful, document than we anticipated it would be possible to agree a few weeks ago, or even perhaps a few days ago.

QUESTION:

Do you not find it is a little bit strange that the Secretary General of the UN was not invited to the Moscow conference while you are inviting all the Heads of States to meet in the Security Council and to give a push to the role of the Security Council and the United Nations?

PRIME MINISTER:

I happen to believe that the role of the United Nations is very important, it has changed and is changing. There was a time when the role of the United Nations was effectively stuck in the mud by the differences that often appeared between some of the larger and more powerful states in the world, it rendered agreements in the Security Council in particular, amongst the Permanent Five in particular, very difficult to achieve.

That is no longer the case and the effect of those changes is that we are now in the position to put the United Nations closer towards the objectives and goals of its original founders when the charter was devised than we have ever been at any stage before. That opportunity was clear to the United Kingdom and we wish to take the chance afforded by our Presidency of the Security Council to bring together Heads of Government in order to give a particular push to that objective. I think today we have actually been successful in that.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley, The Times):

[Inaudible] the Security Council of the need for further economic support for Russia, how soon do you think you will be able to persuade the United States in particular and other G7 members to back a stabilisation fund for the rouble?

PRIME MINISTER:

The first objective before anyone can produce a stabilisation fund, or indeed any other form of support, there is no reason to suppose that will be the only nature of support required, but the first and necessary preliminary is for Russia to become members of the International Monetary Fund.

At a meeting a week or so ago the United Kingdom pushed for that to be concluded as soon as possible and not later than April. That is also the position of the United States. But as to what help follows after membership of Russia in the International Monetary Fund, that is a matter that will be determined then.

And I believe that two things will happen when they become members of the IMF: firstly they will have access to the advice and assistance that the IMF are uniquely well placed to provide; but secondly as members they will also be enabled to receive the significant financial assistance that I believe they are likely to need in the months ahead. So the first thing is to get them in the IMF and then to agree precisely the scale and nature of the assistance they require. If it can be done earlier than April I would like it done earlier than April and it is my impression that that is also the view of the United States government.

QUESTION:

You have been given extensive new tasks to perform on the world scene in peace-making, but nothing has been mentioned about the funds that will be necessary to support this operation and it is obvious that there is plenty of money due to the UN because of delinquency. Have you given any thought as to how the bill is to be filled and footed according to your outline?

MR GHALI:

Yes, I had the occasion to discuss this with the different leaders this morning and they promised to help us to solve the financial problem of the United Nations. As you know, there is a new special fund which has been created and a new coordinator for humanitarian assistance will be appointed in the next few weeks and we hope to receive already 50 million dollars, Great Britain has pledged 5 million dollars, different other members of the United Nations will contribute to this fund and there are many other funds which will be created and I believe, I am sure that we will be able to overcome the financial difficulty of this house in the next few weeks.

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just say firstly in response to that that my country is not behind in its commitments to the United Nations and I do not anticipate it will become so in the future.

I hope that one of the effects of today's meeting and the Secretary General's forthcoming report will encourage members of the United Nations and their respective legislative assemblies to meet the commitments that they have and pay the money that is due to the United Nations.

QUESTION:

How far does this apply to the Middle East problem and the solution of Jerusalem, as the King of Morocco wisely stated today? And if I may ask the Secretary General what he meant by the small states can play a large constructive role?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can answer my part of the question I think very speedily. It is of course United Nations resolutions that are the basis of the peace process, so the role of the United Nations is I think both central and critical.

MR GHALI:

Concerning my question, I believe and I have said this morning that a small state with political will and political imagination can contribute a lot to play a role in international affairs and that what is important is the political will. And without naming states, you have small states during the last 50 years which have played very important roles in international affairs and you may have a powerful state who, for reasons connected to their own policy, are not interested to play a role in international affairs. So the political will, I will say, and the political imagination within the United Nations is as important as the economic and military power of the states.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] we believe that he has declared war on the people of Cuba, is there any consideration being given to the crisis in Cuba by the Security Council?

MR GHALI:

No we have not discussed this and nobody asked to discuss this problem at the Security level.

QUESTION (Independent):

The Prime Minister this morning said that he wanted to see a resolution before the UN about Lockerbie, could he say something about the nature of the resolution he would like to see brought to the UN on the Lockerbie affair, and could he say something about President Yeltsin's views that in fact human rights should have been given more prominence?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the first point, we are of course still waiting a response to the first resolution and it is not until we have received that response, which I hope will not be long delayed, that we can determine what other action and whether another United Nations resolution is required.

If the response is negative, as conceivably it will be, then I think it will be desirable to seek a further resolution from the United Nations and I would hope that would not be too long delayed. But at the moment that is speculation, we have not yet received a response.

MR GHALI:

I may just add that I was requested by the Security Council to get in contact with the Libyan government, we sent an Under Secretary of the United Nations with a personal message to the Libyan leader and we received an oral answer saying that they are ready to cooperate with the United Nations. In fact the message was to implement the resolution which had been decided by the United Nations and not a cooperation with the United Nations, thus I asked the Libyan representative to return back to Tripoli and he returned and he is now in Tripoli to give further information concerning what the Libyan authority means by cooperation with the United Nations because I was request the implementation of the resolution which had been adopted by the Security Council. I hope to receive an answer in the next few days from the Special Representative of the Libyan government.

QUESTION:

What is the status of the declaration at this time, is it a consensus document? The Indian Prime Minister openly disagreed with the nuclear non-proliferation part of it, whereas he disagreed about whether it should be taken on a global level or on a regional level?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he agreed the document. What Prime Minister Rao said was that there were some other things he would have liked to have been in there as well but that he agreed with the document as it is produced. So he is as committed to what is in the document as I am and as is every other member of the Security Council who was here today. And the Prime Minister made that very clear in his contribution this afternoon.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible.]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he wished to add other things, he did not disassociate himself from what was in the agreement, he wished to add other things that were not part of the consensus and are not in the agreement.

QUESTION:

What would be the impact of this meeting in the future and are you going to institutionalise it?

PRIME MINISTER:

This was quite literally an extraordinary meeting of the Security Council, there is no intention of institutionalising a meeting at Heads of State and government, though I would hope now we have found that it is a useful instrument, that if it is necessary to reconvene at that level I would hope people would feel free to do so. But I do not immediately think that it is going to be necessary regularly, nor do I think it would necessarily be desirable to do it regularly. The fact that it is such an unusual occurrence has added weight to the decisions that have been made today.

QUESTION:

The Secretary General proposed that the Council should meet at summit level periodically, did you discuss this issue during lunch and what issues were dealt with during lunch?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we did not discuss that during luncheon, the Secretary General and I were seated too far apart from one another over luncheon to discuss that, we would have needed a megaphone. It was a totally social luncheon and we did not discuss it on that occasion. But there will be many opportunities for the Secretary General and I, and indeed other members of the Security Council, to discuss that and a range of other matters, but not today.

QUESTION (Aviation Week Magazine):

Mr Yeltsin's spokesman earlier today indicated that Mr Yeltsin solicited your cooperation in programmes to prevent the brain drain of nuclear programme specialists from the Soviet Union and to convert nuclear warhead material to nuclear fuel. Can you share what was discussed and what your views are on those programmes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Up to a point yes. We did discuss that in the four hours of discussion we had in London yesterday and we have agreed to send a team to Russia to examine what we might do to assist, and in particular what we might do to assist nuclear fuel used in weaponry to be used more satisfactorily for peaceful and for civilian methods. We are going to send a team to talk to the Russians to see how we can help.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible.]

MR GHALI:

I received last night a long report of Under Secretary Goulding who went to Yugoslavia, went to Zagreb and to Belgrade. I hope to have a meeting in the next few days with the Special Representative, Mr Cyrus Vance, and with what will be the result of those meetings I will submit a report to the Security Council, but it is too early to say what will be the next step.

We have already, as you know, 50 observers there and are cooperating with the monitors of the European Community, we are in contact with the European Community, our approach is that we want to cooperate with the European Community in finding a solution, the role of the European Community being the political solution of the problem, the role of the United Nations being maintaining the ceasefire and peace-keeping forces. But it is too early to say what will be done as a second step, we must have a few meetings among our collaborators and then we will decide and we will present a report to the Security Council on what we have reached on this problem.

QUESTION:

Mr Major, I am sure you are committed to the new world order and under the new world order the Baltic States got their independence. How about those people who are struggling for their independence like Kashmiri people and the people of the Sikh community. And what are you doing to maintain the human rights of the minorities in different countries like India?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have made my concern about human rights known both publicly and privately on a number of occasions in the past. I certainly took the opportunity of raising them, for example, when I was in Beijing both publicly and privately and I have raised them elsewhere. I do not want to comment on one of the many areas where human rights may be an issue except to say that I think it is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone that the world has a closer and more beady eye on the human rights records of nations today than it has ever done at any stage in the past. And where the United Nations these days finds itself involved in peace-making operations, the position of human rights is an important matter that the United Nations keeps under control, keeps its eye on and takes into account in the proposals that it makes. I am sure that is the right way.

In terms of the general position on human rights, the best way to continue to ensure that human rights records of a large number of countries are improved is by peer pressure both within the United Nations and beyond the United Nations. And I think for that reason that it is quite right for political leaders and other leaders to speak out and speak out clearly and unequivocally when they see human rights abuses. I am glad to say that increasingly that is happening.

QUESTION:

Are you willing to support further independence?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to get drawn into the Kashmiri problem, that has not been a subject for today.