By Susan Falvella Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Clinton told a crowded press conference in the grand East Room of the White House last Wednesday that his commitment to help resolve the situation in Northern Ireland remains strong.
"We are tied by blood and emotion to the Irish struggle," Clinton said.
Of his close friend and confidant, former Senator George Mitchell, Clinton said there was no one better qualified for the role of getting the peace process back on track.
"I’ve talked to Senator Mitchell and he is willing to spend some time," Clinton said.
A notably subdued Clinton spoke at the outset of his press conference about the death of John F Kennedy, Jr. His eyes misted as he recollected the last time the young Kennedy came to the White House last May and the two men walked through the rooms where JFK Jr. spent his early childhood.
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"I took him upstairs and showed him the residence, which he’d not seen since he was a tiny boy," the president said.
"I showed him some of my — the memorabilia that I had from his father’s service. I have a picture of his father speaking to the Irish Parliament, and a number of other things which he thought were very interesting."
Clinton regained some of his usual animation later in the press conference when asked about Ireland. He professed a special understanding of why the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed two weeks ago, and a belief that eventually the Good Friday accord will be implemented.
Of the inability of Sinn Féin to coax any sort of decommissioning by the IRA, Clinton said: "They don’t want to have to spend the rest of their lives being told that it wasn’t the vote of the people, it wasn’t the Good Friday accord, it was the Unionists and what Great Britain did to force them to give up their arms."
With a dramatic rubbing of his eyes and forehead, Clinton said his instinct tells him there will be eventual success.
"I’m proud of every late-night phone call and every frustrating hour I’ve spent on it," he concluded to peels of laughter from the White House press corp.
Earlier in the day, British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam said that momentum for the peace process will be restored with the return of Mitchell.
She outlined her confidence in the ability of Bill Clinton to help bring about a positive outcome to the latest efforts to form a functioning government in the North.
"Everyone is willing to keep trying," Mowlam said. "We will make progress as we have done in the past."
When asked about the possibility of an extension of the May, 2000 deadline for the IRA to complete decommissioning, as set out in the Good Friday accord, Mowlam intimated such an extension might be possible because of the delay in forming the executive.
During her Washington, D.C., stopover, Mowlam had talks over dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Wednesday evening.