By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON D.C. — President Clinton’s on-off visit to Ireland now looks like being on in August.
"We are looking at late summer, perhaps in August if all goes well," a White House official said this week.
"This is the one thing he really wants to do … it’s not if, it’s when can we put the trip in his schedule."
Clinton was briefed by telephone by his national security advisor, Sandy Berger, once the Ulster Unionist Council voted Saturday in favor of resuming government alongside Sinn Féin.
Stating that the process was now "back on track," Clinton said that it was "now possible for the politics of conflict to be transformed into the politics of consensus. . . . The wind is back in the sails of peace in Northern Ireland."
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On the sensitive issue of police reform in Northern Ireland, Clinton remains careful. He has told intimates that he is "taking a lot of pressure" from both sides on the future shape of the North’s police force.
The White House responded sharply to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian that Clinton recently turned down two requests for help from British Prime Minister Tony Blair with regard to the RUC.
"The story is a complete fabrication and shows the utter disregard that The Guardian has for normal standards of journalism," said White House National Security Council spokesman Col. P.J. Crowley.
The Guardian report, carried the same day in The Irish Times, stated that Blair had asked Clinton to soften up republican factions in the North into accepting less radical changes to the RUC.
The report stated that Clinton "rebuffed" Blair twice in one day. It quoted a "high-placed source" as stating that Clinton’s response amounted to "an extraordinary and unprecedented event."
Col. Crowley said the story indicated two phone calls were placed from Downing Street to the White House to ask for Clinton’s help.
"There were never two phone calls made to the president," Crowley said.
Berger backed this assertion up, telling reporters: "There’s nothing true in that article except perhaps the byline."
The British government also vehemently denied The Guardian assertion that Clinton told Blair that there are some things that are "not negotiable," and changes to Patten’s recommendations on updating Northern Ireland’s overwhelmingly Protestant police force fell into such a category.
The Guardian report came almost two weeks after the Echo reported that Clinton had warned Blair that there was to be no dilution of the Patten proposals for reforming the RUC. The Echo reported a single phone call by Blair to Clinton, not two.
Some U.S. officials have noted privately that the president has come under pressure from the British on the policing issue.
"The president turned to me and said, ‘I’m taking a lot of heat on this,’ " said one U.S. official of the British government’s attempts to sway the administration toward milder police reforms.
The official said Clinton had decided to "hold the line" and not offer assistance on the issue.