By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With optimism growing over the possibility of a conclusive breakthrough in the effort to fully implement the Good Friday peace agreement, President Clinton took time out from a trip to Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday to express his support for the outcome of the latest round of negotiations.
Clinton also heaped praise on his own hand-picked negotiator, former Sen. George Mitchell.
And speculation was growing Tuesday in the White House press corps accompanying Clinton on his current two-week European tour that the latest breakthrough might result in a presidential stopover in Ireland on the trip back to Washington.
White House and Irish government officials have rebuffed press queries in this regard but privately have not ruled out the scenario.
"We’re scheduled to refuel in Paris," said one White House official accompanying the president. But Shannon could certainly fit the bill."
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
The speculation is that Clinton might use a Shannon stopover to deliver a speech on Irish soil, thus lending the presidency’s direct weight to the impetus achieved in Belfast over recent days.
Definitely stopping over in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, was Gerry Adams. The Sinn Féin president has canceled his planned U.S. trip this week, although a portion of his itinerary is being taken up instead by party vice president Pat Doherty.
Clinton, meanwhile, was talking up the progress at Stormont in the Turkish capital.
"I applaud the persistence that the parties have shown through the last 10 weeks of grueling negotiations," Clinton said after a speech to Turkey’s parliament on Monday.
In a statement, Clinton indicated that he was heartened by Mitchell’s interim report, stating that he was increasingly confident that a way would be found to resolve the current impasse in implementing the Good Friday accord.
"Senator Mitchell has concluded that the pro-Agreement parties and the governments share the view that devolution should occur and the political institutions should be established at the earliest possible date," Clinton said.
"He has also concluded that it is common ground that decommissioning of paramilitary weapons should occur as quickly as possible and that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, led by General de Chastelain, should play the central role in achieving this under the terms of the Good Friday accord.
"Now the parties must move forward to implement the agreement in full and carry out their obligations as spelled out in the Good Friday accord," Clinton concluded while adding his view that Mitchell’s work during the almost 11-week review period was "remarkable."
Reflecting the upbeat tone of the Ankara statement, Clinton’s foreign policy staff was considerably brightened that U.S. efforts in Northern Ireland may finally come to fruition.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger noted the evident shift toward a resolution of some of the more difficult portions of the implementation of the accord agreed upon in April last year.
Berger, accompanying Clinton on his tour, called it "an important day for American foreign policy." Albright said, "We’ve had a very good day in foreign policy."
Officials in Washington pointed to discussions that took place at the White House over the last several weeks involving Clinton, his advisers and Senator Mitchell as well as UUP leader David Trimble in "brainstorming" sessions that helped the different sides to think "outside the box."
Back in the U.S., immediate Irish American political reaction to events in Belfast was reflective of the renewed White House optimism.
Rep. James Walsh, chairman of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress, described developments as "a breakthrough of tremendous importance and a victory for patience, persistence and good will.
"With this promise of self-determination also comes great economic hope for the people of Northern Ireland. With peace taking hold, one need only look to the prosperity in the south to imagine the possibilities for the North."
Walsh noted that the breakthrough came in the week that details of the Walsh Visa scheme — named after him — are to be formally announced in Washington.
Rep. Richard Neal, a Democratic co-chair of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, described developments in Belfast as positive and constructive.
Neal said that political parties in the North had to be strongly commended for their willingness to work together in an unprecedented manner.
"It is clear that pro-agreement parties took genuine risks in an effort to break the current stalemate," the Massachusetts congressman said.
Rep. Peter King, a Republican co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, told the Echo that the turn of events in Belfast was a positive step.
"A lot of credit goes to Mitchell, Adams and Trimble," King said. "He [Trimble] is showing leadership. This is the logical consequence of his signing up to the Good Friday agreement. But I’ve criticized him in the past so it’s important to give him credit now."
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty arrived in Boston Tuesday afternoon to cover some of the engagements on the again-postponed Gerry Adams tour.
Last month, Adams was forced to pull out of most of a planned U.S. visit, including a scheduled address at Boston College, because of negative developments in the Stormont talks. Ironically, his latest change of plans was caused by positive developments.
Adams was listed to speak at Boston College on Tuesday evening, but that event has again been put on the long finger.
"Boston College looked forward to hosting Gerry Adams as part of our efforts to invite Irish leaders to share their perspectives on the Northern Irish political situation," said Jack Dunn, BC’s Director of Public Affairs. "However, we fully understand his decision."
Adams was also forced to pull out of other planned events in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Adams, in a statement, expressed "great regret" but added that the urgent necessity to secure the implementation of the Good Friday agreement was his party’s priority at this time.
"I hope to fulfill these long-standing engagements soon and trust that people will understand that only the seriousness and urgency of the situation in Ireland prevents me from attending," Adams said.
Doherty, meanwhile, will attend other previously scheduled events on the Adams itinerary including community events in Boston and Philadelphia and a rally at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.