By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration issued a cautious welcome to last week’s apology by the IRA to its victims and their families, most notably what it termed “noncombatants.”
The administration’s point man on the North, Dr. Richard Haass, said he understood the legitimate skepticism of some Unionists politicians but at the same time urged them to accept the apology at face value.
“I think Unionists should accept progress where it appears,” Haass said.
However, Haass appeared to reserve his own judgment as to the IRA’s long-term intentions.
“So long as the IRA retains arms and retains its paramilitary nature or potential, one has to simply say that it’s an open book. No one can say for sure what they will do,” he said.
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Haass described the IRA apology as a “useful step.”
“It’s important in any situation of this sort that parties deal effectively with their past,” he told the New York Times. “Normalization often comes in discrete steps, and this is a discrete step.”
In an interview given to the BBC, Haass went on to focus on the issue of arms held by paramilitary groups, republican and loyalist.
“To put it bluntly, intentions can change from day to day,” he said. “But capacities can’t, capabilities can’t, so that’s why the focus is on seeing the elimination of all arms, not simply by the IRA, but by all paramilitaries.”
Haass also reflected the administration’s continued concern over the alleged links between the IRA and leftists rebels in Colombia.
“Our principle concern is that there be no such links of any sort between the IRA and any terrorist organization in Colombia or anywhere else from this point on,” he said.
A congressional response to the IRA apology came from Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, a co-chair of the House Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs. Neal said in a statement that he welcomed the IRA statement.
“It is another important development in the journey towards a peaceful reconciliation to the conflict in the north of Ireland,” he said. “I also share the view of the taoiseach and Secretary [John] Reid that this unprecedented gesture will help families better deal with the healing process.
“What is equally significant is the IRA’s renewal of their commitment to the peace process. I strongly believe that they are genuinely committed to the democratic process in Ireland and to the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement.”