In a wide-ranging speech in London on 28 July, UK Prime Minister John Major set out the British view of the critical issues facing the region

K Prime Minister John Major expressed strong support for the Israel-PLO declaration of principles and the Israel-Jordan joint declaration signed on 25 July (MEED 5:8:94, Cover Story).

In a sign of the UK government’s support for the latest initiative, Major announced that the outstanding loans to Jordan by the Overseas Development Administration will be converted into a grant, a measure worth about £60 million ($92 million).

Major called for early progress in Israel’s talks with Lebanon and Syria. Lasting peace and stability would offer the chance of growing prosperity. ‘With this more hopeful prospect, it is surely time to end the Arab boycott…’ he said.

Iraq had to implement ‘all relevant security council resolutions’. Major called for changes in Iranian behaviour, and urged negotiations between the rival sides in Yemen.

The prime minister said that sanctions against Libya would not be suspended until the two suspects are handed over for trial in Scotland or the US, France obtains satisfaction about the bombing of a UTA aircraft and Tripoli renounces terrorism.

Major said that the UK welcomed the Algerian government’s IMF agreement. ‘Extremism thrives on economic deprivation,’ he said. ‘Successful economic reform will do much to widen support for Algeria’s government and institutions.’

Major dwelt on the Bosnian crisis, arguing that the UN weapons embargo had helped keep down casualties in the former Yugoslavia. But patience was running out: ‘…unless the Serbs now change their approach, I fear that we shall face great difficulties in the weeks and months ahead,’ he warned.

‘I HAVE HAD a personal interest in the Middle East ever since, as a new backbencher, I visited the West Bank. I have followed this up as prime minister in visits and many meetings, and I hope to make a further visit or two to the region in the months ahead.

‘Before I address the peace process, and the brighter news which it brings, I must say a word about the two shocking terrorist attacks in London earlier this week.

‘These, alas, are not isolated events. There have been other acts recently, for example those in Buenos Aires and Panama which have taken an appalling toll.

‘We cannot yet be certain who lay behind these acts, or whether they are connected. But I know you would want me to express the repugnance of everyone here tonight at these attacks and at all acts of terrorism, and our sympathy for the victims and the bereaved.

‘For terrorism is the enemy of us all. Terrorism has been directed at those who seek peace and progress in the Middle East. Terrorism is perpetrated by those who refuse to abide by the rule of law and by the principles of a civilised society.

‘We must seek out its perpetrators and bring them to justice. It is unacceptable for any state to tolerate, let alone support, terrorism. The international community must unite against it.

THE PEACE PROCESS

‘Had I said a year ago that we were on the threshold of a new era in the Middle East, you would not have believed me.

‘Optimism was out of fashion. But last August, word spread of an outline agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. When the declaration of principles was signed in September, a blow against pessimism everywhere was struck.

‘That act of courage transformed prospects for the region. Now Israel has completed its withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho; and the Palestinians have made an encouraging start in assuming their new responsibilities there. The knot has been cut. It is now easier to go forward than back. And essential that we go forward

‘We strongly support the declaration of principles. We particularly want to give practical help to the new Palestinian administration in Gaza and Jericho, and aim to commit at least £75 million in bilateral and multilateral assistance over the next 3 years.

‘We are giving priority to the Palestinian police. Good security is vital to the Gaza/Jericho agreement. We have already run two training courses in the UK for senior Palestinian police officers and have provided some equipment. We shall do more.

‘We are helping other pillars of the new entity. The Bank of England is advising the Palestinians on setting up a central monetary authority. This is something I agreed with Yasser Arafat when he visited London. British experts are helping to prepare for the elections later this year and to build the legal infrastructure. And we of course intend to help the private sector. The need for new enterprises and new jobs is self- evident.

‘A comprehensive settlement is of course the ultimate goal. Last Monday’s summit between King Hussain and Prime Minister Rabin has been another huge step forward. I am proud to count myself among the many personal friends in Britain of King Hussain. He has shown indomitable courage over the years, and has led Jordan towards democracy as well as peace.

‘I applaud the Washington declaration ending the state of war between Jordan and Israel. We wish to support Jordan in every way we can along the path charted by King Hussain. I know from my own discussions with the king that the burden of accumulated debt has weighed heavily on Jordan. If we can alleviate this burden, I believe that we can help Jordan’s economic growth and democratisation, and underpin the new relationship with Israel.

‘I am therefore delighted to announce tonight that Britain will be converting outstanding balances of loans to Jordan by the Overseas Development Administration to a grant. This step will be worth approximately £60 million ($92.2 million) and is a powerful signal of our support.

‘We also hope to see early progress on the Syrian and Lebanon tracks. In Lebanon, despite the continued Israeli presence in the south, impressive efforts are under way to rebuild the country, and in particular Beirut, after years of destructive conflict.

‘A just and comprehensive settlement is now a real possibility. It would produce lasting stability – something unknown to anyone now living in the near east. And it would offer the chance of growing prosperity – of increased trade and investment; of better communications; and of harnessing the talents and potential of all the countries of the region, including Israel. With this more hopeful prospect, it is surely time to end the Arab boycott, as the eight summit nations proposed at Naples.

PARTNERSHIP

‘More generally I would like to see a new partnership and deeper understanding between Britain, Europe and the Middle East.

‘In his Oxford speech last October, the Prince of Wales argued that the links between the West and the world of Islam mattered more today than ever before.

‘As he rightly said, there is much that binds the cultures of the West and the Middle East together: respect for knowledge and for justice, compassion for the under-privileged, the importance of family life.

‘We deeply respect Islam. We do not regard it as a threat. It is completely wrong to equate the extremism of a few in the Middle East with the religion of Islam.

‘We live in neighbouring regions of a shrinking world. Thousands of Britons live and work in the Middle East and in other Islamic countries. Hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Britain adhere to Islam. We benefit from the diversity and richness of each other’s culture and traditions; just as we do from a vibrant network of personal and professional connections. And we must jointly stand against those who foment misunderstanding or seek to drive us apart.

‘The surge in British trade with the Middle East last year shows the benefits of partnership. Helped by the efforts of many people here this evening, British exports to the region went up by nearly 15 per cent – with increases of up to 50 per cent to some countries. The peace process should contribute to a further rise in two-way trade. Within Europe, we shall of course lead the drive for more liberal trading arrangements, to the benefit of us all.

‘These are exciting prospects. But there are problems, too, and I should say a few words about them.

IRAQ

‘It is now over three years since Kuwait was liberated. But dealing with the consequences of Iraq’s aggression is, sadly, a continuing task.

‘There is one clear objective: full implementation by Iraq of all the relevant security council resolutions.

‘We seek to help the Iraqi people, not to prolong their suffering.

‘I deeply regret their hardship. They deserve better.

‘It is the Iraqi regime which, by its failure to act, and its cruel and repressive policies is prolonging this suffering. None of the security council’s requirements is unreasonable: none of them is difficult. Fulfilling them would enable Iraq to rejoin the international community.

IRAN

‘Iraq’s neighbour, Iran, presents another serious challenge to the international community.

‘Iran is an important regional power. We would prefer a normal relationship with her. But many aspects of Iran’s behaviour are simply unacceptable, and indeed threatening: on human rights, terrorism, her military and nuclear ambitions, her attempts to undermine the peace process.

‘The Naples summit captured the view of most members of the international community. The eight nations there wanted the government of Iran to participate constructively in international efforts for peace and stability. But we also said clearly that Iran had to modify its behaviour to allow that to happen. We look to Iran to heed the message.

YEMEN

‘In Yemen, the recent civil war has caused acute humanitarian problems and serious concern to the country’s neighbours.

‘We supported the decision of the two former states to unify in 1990. We supported, morally and materially, the democratic elections of 1993. We were all the more disappointed when the unified government failed to operate effectively or justly.

‘A lasting solution will be found only through negotiation and dialogue. We have tried to help this process. We promoted both the security council resolutions. We have kept in close touch with our good friends in the region and we understand their concerns. We have supported relief efforts.

‘All of us share the goal of restoring stability to Yemen. The UN secretary- general’s special envoy, Mr Brahimi, is now trying to bring the two sides together. I urge the Yemeni authorities to co-operate fully with him in the search for stability and internal peace.

LIBYA/LOCKBERBIE

‘With Libya, the unresolved question of the Lockerbie bombing is another impediment to regional stability.

‘We have said repeatedly that we will suspend sanctions if the two suspects are handed over for trial in Scotland or the US; if the French obtain satisfaction over the UTA bombing; and if Libya renounces terrorism irrevocably. We have no other aims.

‘Suggestions have been made for trying the accused elsewhere, such as in The Hague, possibly under Scottish law, or even before a specially established UN tribunal.

‘I have to say that such ideas are not acceptable. They imply that somehow the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is flawed and unreliable, and that special arrangements should be made for the sake of terrorist suspects. We have given the Libyans every assurance of a fair trial in Scotland and humane treatment of the accused. If Libya complies with the security council resolutions, there is no reason why our relations should not once more become positive and beneficial.

ALGERIA

‘Touching on the Maghreb, I should mention Algeria.

‘We and our European partners welcome the Algerian government’s agreement with the IMF on a far-reaching economic programme. We are supporting it financially.

‘Extremism thrives on economic deprivation. Successful economic reform will do much to widen support for Algeria’s government and institutions.

BOSNIA

‘Let me conclude with Bosnia.

‘We are again facing a very serious situation. For the past five months, there has been a fragile peace across most of Bosnia – tenuous, tense, often interrupted, but nevertheless a form of peace. People have begun to rebuild their lives and their property. Some hope had returned.

‘This peace resulted from negotiations between the Muslims and the Croats in which British UN commanders played a crucial part. It has been preserved only because UNPROFOR* was there to help preserve it – again with the large British UNPROFOR contingent playing a leading part and going first into some of the most dangerous places, such as Gorazde, to protect the population, mostly the Muslim population.

‘Let me first describe what our aims have been in Bosnia. They have at times been misrepresented and misunderstood. It is important to be clear about them.

‘It has not been our objective to impose a peace on Bosnia by military force, simply because that has never been an attainable objective for the United Kingdom and our allies.

‘If a simple military solution had been attainable, of course we and others would have gone for it long ago. But anyone who has studied the terrain and the military dispositions of Bosnia knows that imposing peace would have required a huge military force. It would certainly have required the deployment of very large numbers of American ground troops as well as those of other NATO allies. That has never been in prospect. The casualties, including civilian casualties, would have been enormous; the conflict long and uncertain; and the result would not have been a lasting settlement.

‘We have pursued three clear and realistic objectives.

‘First, in the two years since I convened the International Conference in London, we have unremittingly pursued a negotiated settlement – a settlement acceptable to the peoples of Bosnia – in short, the only form of settlement which would last. I shall come back to this in a minute.

‘Second, we have sought to contain the conflict within Bosnia. We have, so far, succeeded in this. It has not spread yet to other volatile areas such as Kosovo or Macedonia. Croatia is mostly now at peace. East and West have not lined up on opposite sides: there has been remarkable unity of purpose between Europe, the United States and Russia this year.

‘Third, we set out to help the ordinary people of Bosnia. To provide humanitarian relief in some of the most hazardous circumstance ever faced by a United Nations operation. In this too, we have had much success. The main beneficiaries of course have been the Bosnian Muslims, precisely because they were the most vulnerable and the most afflicted of the ethnic groups.

‘So those have been our three aims. Lifting the arms embargo would not have helped these objectives. Indeed, it would have made them unattainable. The embargo has been maintained by the UN Security Council for a simple and just purpose: to minimise the scale of the conflict and maximise the pressure for peace.

‘It applies to all parts of the former Yugoslavia. It is not an embargo on one of the three parties, but on them all. As the war has shown, all sides have disposed of large quantities of weapons and ammunition. If yet more weapons had poured in, many more people – civilian and soldiers; Muslims, Croats and Serbs – would by now have been killed…

‘Unless there is a settlement, the gains made by UNPROFOR could be lost. The fragile peace established by our troops is at risk. If the conflict revived, if the international community had to take stronger action, or if the restraint of the arms embargo disappeared, UNPROFOR’s situation would very likely become untenable…

‘We shall continue to make every effort to achieve a negotiated settlement, and to avert the risks I have described. All who have the true interests of the Bosnian peoples at heart should support this effort, and consider most seriously the consequences of alternative courses. However, unless the Serbs now change their approach, I fear that we shall face great difficulties in the weeks and months ahead.

‘Though I cannot be optimistic about Bosnia, in the Middle East the peace process has given us all new hope. There are large problems to be overcome both in that process and elsewhere in the region. But with greater understanding and a close partnership, I believe that we can help to resolve them.’

* United Nations Protection Force