By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an effort to inject new life into the stalled peace process, President Clinton was expected to meet separately Tuesday evening with Northern Ireland party leaders John Hume, Gerry Adams and David Trimble.
The meetings were to take place during an awards ceremony honoring the three, and five other North party leaders who signed the Good Friday accord.
The politicians were in the U.S. capital to be presented, along with Clinton himself, with the Averell Harriman peace awards at a ceremony Tuesday night at the Omni Shoreham hotel.
President Clinton was expected to meet for a few minutes during the event with Hume, Adams and Trimble and urge compromise and progress in the troubled process.
Particular attention will be paid to the outcome of the encounter between Clinton and Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble as a result of his party’s apparent unwillingness to give ground on the matter of cross-border ministerial bodies and IRA arms decommissioning.
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Trimble left Northern Ireland at the end of last week for a "mini-holiday" in the Washington area following the failure of talks aimed at a possible compromise brokered last week by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Despite the growing concerns on both sides of the Atlantic, Trimble himself remained upbeat at a Washington press conference Monday.
"The current impasse can be sorted out," the North Assembly’s first minister designate told reporters during a press conference at the National Press Club.
Trimble pointed the finger of blame not at his own party, but at the SDLP.
When asked about the state of his relationship with Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, Trimble replied, "I was disappointed that the SDLP chose to make demands at a late hour and that was the cause in not finishing up last week."
However, Trimble subsequently made the point that such falling out between himself and Mallon could be expected at times and it would not stop him from working with Mallon.
It was noted that Trimble seemed to take a step back Monday from his party’s hitherto uncompromising position on the need for immediate IRA arms decommissioning before the Assembly’s proposed executive is formed.
"It is my hope that some [decommissioning] will take place," Trimble said. "I think the issue of decommissioning will be resolved because in the nationalist community there will be moral and social pressure. They don’t want to lose this opportunity because of a small group, a very small group even within the republican movement, wants to maintain weapons."
By Tuesday, however, Trimble was suggesting that his comments on decommissioning had been misconstrued.
He said he was earlier trying to be helpful and more hopeful sounding. "I did not mean to say we would proceed without decommissioning," he told a reporter.
Trimble was, at the same time, quick to refute alarm signals coming from Sinn Féin.
He suggested that the February deadline for the Assembly executive and cross-border bodies might only be narrowly missed and that there might be "slippage" of about only a month.
Sinn Féin has expressed deepening concern in recent days over what it sees as "the continued stalling of even the basic elements of the Good Friday agreement."
Before departing Belfast for Boston — where he and the other leaders were presented with "Profile in Courage" awards at the John F. Kennedy Library, Adams signaled his party’s growing sense of unease.
"It is imperative that progress is made speedily and a deal is concluded before Christmas," he said.
Sinn Féin sources were saying Tuesday that the party believed Trimble’s apparently sanguine approach to the current impasse was a false front aimed at the U.S. media.
"He’s collecting several awards, so he has to sound reasonable, but there’s no change on decommissioning," a Sinn Féin source said.
Trimble was also the recipient of a Profile in Courage award, but he did not attend the Boston ceremony, citing family commmitments. He is being accompanied by family members during the Washington visit.
The Trimbles, together with John Hume, were to leave Washington Tuesday night after the Harriman Awards presentations and fly on a chartered plane directly to Oslo to receive their joint Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, in another development, the new U.S. ambassador to Ireland, former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan, was sworn in as ambassador at a ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington Tuesday afternoon.
The swearing-in was performed by Deputy Secretary of State for European Affairs Stuart Eisenstadt.
Vice President Al Gore had been scheduled to preside, but his father died over the weekend and the funeral was Tuesday in Tennessee. President Clinton, who was expected to "drop-by" the ceremony, was also absent due to the funeral of Albert Gore Sr.
€ Gerry Adams is due to come to New York after his Washington visit to sign copies of his books at O’Neill’s Restaurant, 729 3rd Ave., NYC on Thursday, Dec. 10, from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Details (212) 661-3530.