By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Clinton has been working the phones as the political process in Northern Ireland apparently grinds to a halt.
"We are heavily involved in trying to get the Good Friday accords implemented and get the present process supported," Clinton said at the White House Tuesday.
"It’s working. And it would be a tragedy if it were derailed. But in order to keep it going, everybody’s going to have to honor the terms of the agreement."
Clinton spoke with a number of pivotal figures in recent days, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and North peace negotiator George Mitchell.
Mitchell himself spoke with North party leaders in an effort to prevent any further deterioration of the situation.
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Blair’s spokesman told reporters Tuesday: "We are working very closely with them [United States] trying to make sure we keep the whole process moving forward."
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble said he had spoken to Mitchell and would continue a dialogue in the coming days, but added that he was "too embarrassed" to ask Mitchell to return to Belfast.
White House spokesman David Levy said that the president would not ask Mitchell to return to Northern Ireland any time soon. "That would be premature with the president engaged with government and party leaders," Levy said
Indicating that foreign policy advisors to the president remain engaged, Levy said the White House was on guard not to say too much in public but acknowledged with a shrug of his shoulders, "this is a tough process."
The latest setback for peace in the North will likely dampen plans for a possible Clinton to visit this year. May has been mentioned as a likely month for such a trip.
An early indication that the White House sensed trouble came last week in Clinton’s State of the Union address. Clinton gave Northern Ireland only a brief mention. Had the situation been better, he would undoubtedly have taken the opportunity to present Northern Ireland as a foreign policy success.
Meanwhile, the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs has called on the Irish and British governments and the political parties in the North to "stay the course" and continue the power sharing assembly according to the terms of the Good Friday accord.
"It would be a mistake to turn the clock back and be bound by artificial deadlines on the arms decommissioning issue that has long prevented progress in the North," the four co-chairs of the committee, Reps. Ben Gilman, Richard Neal, Peter King and Joe Crowley, said.
"The best chance for ensuring that arms are no long part of the political dynamics of Northern Ireland is to carry out the original terms of the Good Friday accord, which require power sharing institutions in place and operational in order that arms can and ought to be decommissioned."