By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In what may be his last detailed personal thoughts on the matter, President Clinton said Sunday night that Northern Ireland should rely on the political process to resolve remaining issues, and that its citizens would just have to learn to live with its police force.
In a departure from his prepared text, President Clinton, speaking about the Palestinian-Isr’li crisis to a Jewish group at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, said that difficult global issues can be divided into two categories: "Some are like old wounds with scabs on them, and some are like abscessed teeth."
Clinton advised that Northern Ireland was not in need of a dentist, but a Band Aid for its wound covered by a scab.
"Old wounds with scabs eventually will heal if you just leave them alone," he said. "And if you fool with them too much, you might open the scab and make them worse. Abscessed teeth, however, will only get worse if you leave them alone, and if you wait and wait and wait, they’ll just infect the whole rest of your mouth."
In Northern Ireland, Clinton said, "the people are benefiting from peace, and they can live with the fact that they can’t quite figure out what to do about the police force and the reconciliation of the various interests and passions of the Protestants and Catholics."
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With less than two weeks left in his presidency, Clinton’s comparison of the two trouble spots on the globe may be his final words on the subject. White House officials denied any change in the president’s previous position against a heavily watered-down reform of the police in Northern Ireland.
"The president was just holding up the Irish peace process as a success — successful in as much as they have the Assembly and the collaborative work by Britain and Ireland — that the Palestinians and Isr’lis can look to," one senior White House official said.
The official said Clinton remains in close touch with Irish, British and Northern Ireland officials and is voicing his concerns over "the suspension of the Sinn Fein ministers as well as decommissioning."
The official confirmed that Clinton’s rather gritty use of medical analogies was not previewed by his aides. "When the speech left the White House, it discussed one peace process not two," the official said, while noting that Clinton clearly had Ireland on his mind.
President Clinton went on during his speech to lament his inability to resolve the outstanding issues between unionists and republicans. During his Irish visit last month, he said the trip was designed to highlight the gains made for the province’s citizens. He warned the North’s elected officials: "All the politicians know that if they really let the wheel run off over there, the people will throw them out on their ears."
Citing the economic boom in the Republic and pronouncing the North "Great Britain’s fastest-growing economy," Clinton said economic prosperity is the greatest carrot and stick in the contemporary model of conflict resolution.
"Even though I wish I could solve it all," the president said of Northern Ireland, "eventually it will heal, if it just keeps going in the same direction."