By Ray O’Hanlon
Despite his preoccupation with the Kosovo crisis, President Clinton took time last week to make three phone calls to Belfast as last-ditch efforts to shore up the Good Friday peace accord stumbled toward an inconclusive climax.
According to a report in the Irish Times, Clinton "made three interventions on the last night of the Hillsborough talks" in an effort to reach an all-party declaration on arms decommissioning and formation of a governing executive.
Clinton spoke to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other unidentified participants in the talks, according to the report.
It was suggested that Clinton’s conversation with Adams was enough to ensure what was later perceived as a toned down Sinn Féin reaction to the optimistic Hillsborough Declaration, released jointly by Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, which called arms decommissioning an obligation, not a precondition.
Clinton has worked the phones extensively during previous crisis moments in the peace process, with rather more obvious success.
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Meanwhile, the Boston Herald has named Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble as being the main stumbling block in the search for a settlement.
In an editorial Tuesday headlined "It’s Trimble’s fault if these talks fail," the Herald stated that Trimble was seeking to impose a new condition on Sinn Féin — prior decommissioning — which was not part of the Good Friday agreement.
"Already IRA figures are making veiled threats. If the IRA resumes hostilities, there may be no peace in Northern Ireland in our lifetimes. And the IRA will be responsible for what the IRA does. But Trimble will bear primary responsibility for failure to give life to the Good Friday agreement," the editorial concluded.
Irish-American reaction to the adjourned Belfast talks, meanwhile, has been largely one of disappointment.
AOH National President Tom Gilligan said in a statement that the failure to secure a functioning Executive "can only be a bad omen for peace."
Gilligan said that it should be apparent to Blair that loyalists would only be happy with a return to the status quo.
"In these circumstances, it is difficult to speak of ‘ceremonies of remembrance’ as a means of healing the wounds of nearly 80 years of oppression," Gilligan said.
However, Gilligan added that such gestures did have a salutary effect and that the AOH would take part if any were organized.
"If anything should be remembered, it is this: There is no substitute for concrete and positive actions which reverse the years of degradation under the occupation and which add to the final chapter of Britain’s misrule in Ireland," Gilligan concluded.
The Irish American Unity Conference said it was "deeply disappointed" at the failure to form an executive and it urged the Irish and British governments and all parties supporting the Good Friday accord to implement it fully "without additional preconditions."