Category: Archive

Blair will beat Bertie to Bush

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — British Prime Minister Tony Blair will have the opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland with President Bush before Taoiseach Bertie Ahern gets his chance.

Blair is lined up to be the third world leader to meet with Bush after the prime minister of Canada and president of Mexico.

The British leader is expected in Washington on Feb. 23. Ahern is expected three weeks later in the U.S. capital for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, although the Bush White House appeared a little uncertain this week as to what form those celebrations might actually take.

Blair and Bush have already spoken on the phone and both governments have been highlighting a return of the Anglo-American "special relationship."

Ahern, by contrast, has exchanged letters with Bush. Bush recently wrote the taoiseach pledging his commitment to seeing the Northern Ireland peace process prosper. Ahern had previously written to Bush congratulating him on his election.

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Bush also wrote to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams stating that he "remained dedicated to supporting the peace process in Northern Ireland."

A press release from the White House announcing the Blair visit stated: "The United States and the United Kingdom share a broad agenda of common interests and values in Europe and beyond and the president looks forward to reviewing ways in which we can intensify cooperation in pursuit of common goals."

The Good Friday agreement is being included on the agenda for the Bush and Blair talks.

Press guidance being provided by the Bush administration staff on Blair’s Feb. 23 and 24 visit to Washington includes the following: "The president of course will be interested in the prime minister’s assessment of the implementation of the Good Friday accord."

Bush has concentrated on domestic initiatives in his first two weeks in office. As a result, neither Irish diplomats nor State Department personnel have been yet able to sketch a clear picture of how the new president will actually approach the peace process.

Meanwhile, Bush is yet to receive a letter on Ireland which has been gathering the signatures of GOP legislators since before his inauguration.

The letter, drafted in early December, is understood to be aimed at helping the Bush administration formulate a policy that will maintain direct U.S. involvement in the search for a lasting settlement in the North.

However, it is believed that the early draft of the letter played up the importance of Oval Office and National Security Council involvement in that policy.

In recent days, the Bush White House has indicated that Ireland, or indeed any other foreign policy issue, will be primarily the responsibility of the State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell.

If that is the case, the Bush letter could conceivably end up being sent to Powell instead of the president. Powell, like Bush, stated his strong commitment to the Good Friday agreement during his recent confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

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