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Clinton ready to help end impasse

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Clinton will do anything he can to “save” the Good Friday peace agreement because the differences between parties in Northern Ireland are nothing compared to the price losing the peace.

Clinton, who revealed his thoughts on the troubled peace process at a White House press conference, has kept in steady touch with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the various Northern Ireland political parties as they face the June 30 deadline for overcoming the decommissioning barrier.

White House officials said Clinton has not performed any personal deal making or prodding as of Tuesday, but they were waiting to be called into the negotiations at just the right time.

“We are trying to figure out when is the best time and opportunity for him to have the effect that he has had before,” a White House spokesman said.

On a return trip from New York Monday night, Clinton said he remained optimistic and expressed profound concern for the process. “Today I had a good feeling about it,” he said. “The price of its coming apart is greater than the cost of it going forward. I’m still concerned, but I felt a little bit better today.”

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Earlier in the day, he spoke with the BBC in an effort to boost the chances of a resolution by Wednesday’s deadline. He pleaded for understanding on both sides during a very sensitive time.

“I think that they all have to find a way — we know what the problems, the legitimate problems Sinn FTin has with the decommissioning issue,” the president said.

Clinton acknowledged the difficulty the UUP leader, David Trimble, faces if he is seen by his own constituents as giving in to Sinn FTin over IRA arms decommissioning.

“There has to be a resolution that enables the leadership of the Unionists, Mr. Trimble and the others who have fought for peace, to survive,” Clinton said during the interview.

Clinton fell short of asking Sinn FTin to comply with the request by Tony Blair to give assurance that the IRA would agree to a timetable for disarmament. He said the two sides were faced with very “thorny problems” that called for compromise.

“One thing I would say to the Unionists is that they can always walk away from this if the commitments aren’t made at a later date,” Clinton said. “They can bring this down any time by simply walking out if the commitments aren’t kept.”

The interview took place before the announcement of the decision to ban the Drumcree Orange Order march, scheduled for July 4. Clinton’s advice on how to handle the marching issue again included a request for understanding. “No one should have to give up his or her heritage or traditions, but they should be pursued with some sensitivity to how others feel as well,” he said.

Clinton is mindful of the personal time and effort he has made and does not want to see his efforts go for naught.

It is his belief that a positive outcome in Northern Ireland’s quest for peace and political stability could be offered as a blueprint for other global hot spots.

At the White House news conference, held last Friday, Clinton was asked about his preparations for the final push in the negotiations.

Pausing frequently and speaking with great gravity, Clinton said he had faith that the present row over decommissioning would be resolved in time to meet the Wednesday deadline. He also indicated a readiness to reprise the role of facilitator that he first established when the Good Friday accord was agreed to in April 1998.

“In the days ahead, I intend to do whatever anyone thinks I can do to save it,” Clinton said.

“I have been in intense contact with Prime Minister Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I have invested a great deal in the process of peace. . . . I don’t think we have a great deal of time to resolve this complicated — politically and emotionally complicated — issue.”

Asked whether Sinn FTin leader Gerry Adams would continue to receive a U.S. visa waiver if the IRA did not commit to either actual decommissioning or a proposed timeline for IRA disarmament, Clinton responded: “We are in a very serious period and I don’t want to say anything that would make it worse. No matter how difficult these issues are, I don’t know how in goodness name we could let this peace process fall apart.”

Addressing those marching in Orange Order parades and the nationalists whose neighborhoods the marches go through, Clinton made a plea for understanding. He attempted to diffuse possible violence by extolling the possibilities of the Good Friday accord.

“I would ask those who march, and those who are angry at the march, to remember that agreement,” he said.

At times pausing to find just the right word and tone, Clinton told the people of Northern Ireland to think positive.

“I’m still thinking we’ll be able to get it to work out. I wish everyone would think of how far we’ve come. I hope and pray it will be saved. The differences there are profound, but they are nothing in comparison to the cost of losing.”

Mitchell for Belfast

Meanwhile, the man who shepherded the Good Friday accord into existence is to make a return visit to Belfast even as the political temperature in the North reaches new heights.

Former Sen. George Mitchell said that although he was returning to Belfast, no one should look to him to perform miracles.

“They need to do it themselves,” said the man who worked for two years in an effort to secure a successful and stable government for the North.

“No doubt it would be easier for me to take the blame for some by renegotiating and reworking what was put together, but that won’t help the people of Northern Ireland,” Mitchell said after giving a TV interview in Washington, D.C.

“There’s never an easy time, if they wait for that, they’ll be waiting forever,” he said of the political difficulties UUP leader David Trimble faces in going into government with Sinn FTin.

Mitchell concluded that although it may look bleak in the North at the moment, he had faith that hurdles would be removed and that “they will do it.”

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