By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Securing a lasting peace in Northern Ireland remains at the top of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy agenda, according to White House officials.
Despite Clinton’s obvious frustration over the difficulty all sides have encountered in implementing the Good Friday Accord, the president remains upbeat that his emissary, George Mitchell, will be able to right the faltering process.
"To say that it’s crunch time is a fair assessment of the situation," said one White House official, "but we believe that it is now a matter of what kind of agreement will be secured at the close of Mitchell’s review."
Clinton remains prepared to assist, as he has done several times before, as Mitchell tries a final attempt in London this week to salvage the peace process.
While still smarting over Clinton’s recent off-the-cuff remarks in which he compared Northern Ireland’s feuding politicians to a "couple of drunks," officials here maintain there is a role for the president to play.
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"He has no illusions that this is going to be easy," a White House official said.
In a Washington Post story this week, one which noted Clinton’s verbal transgression about Northern Ireland, Democratic fundraiser and businessman Terence McAuliffe was quoted as saying: "As he gets closer to the end of his term, he’s more reflective about the past seven years, and he feels freer to talk about the experiences of the past seven years."
Putting aside Clinton’s metaphorical bloopers, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, said this week: "President Clinton has extraordinary opportunities to promote peace and to project American leadership during his last 15 months." Berger said the President puts the achievement of peace in Northern Ireland at the top of that agenda.
On Monday night, in Elizabeth City, New Jersey, after a Democratic party fundraiser, Clinton walked across the street where a group of well-wishers were awaiting his departure. A middle-aged blonde woman from Northern Ireland reminded the president that many still expected much of him.
"I hope you stay the course with the peace process," she said.
Clinton stopped and replied: "Yeah, it’s looking good, we’re watching it."
There was no alternative to the current process, an addministration official later said. "This is the way forward and we will all focus on Senator Mitchell and the contacts he has worked with for a long period of time."
The White House, meanwhile, has indicated that it expects to meet with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble when he comes to Washington in a couple of weeks.