Category: Archive

Election fears may delay U.S. peace effort in North

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration was set to open its first public effort to assist in the Irish peace process, but concerns over the unexpected results in last week’s vote for local council and Westminster seats may delay the process.

There is concern in Washington as the perceived "extremists" of Northern Ireland’s political parties made ground during the election, thus destabilizing the atmosphere, one official privately reported.

A senior Bush administration official had recently confirmed that President Bush’s point person on Ireland, Ambassador Richard Haass would commence with expected "intensive talks" later this month. White House officials refuse to categorize Haass as a special envoy and prefer "point person" to describe his role. To date, the Bush administration has sought to downplay its efforts in foreign policy issues unrelated to defense.

"Things are on hold now following the election," one Irish diplomat said.

Instead of a point person, it now appears the president himself will be injected directly into the North’s most contentious part of the sectarian annual clashes. Bush told reporters on Tuesday that he will visit British Prime Minister Tony Blair in July.

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"I am going to be visiting Chequers in my next trip over," Bush said before his first stop, Spain, on a multination trip to Europe this week.

Bush is slated for a second visit to Europe in mid-July for a summit in Genoa, Italy. He will go to Chequers, the official country residence of the British prime minister during the prime marching season in Northern Ireland.

The Bush administration officials said a decision will be made soon as to whether Haass will personally visit Ireland in the near future for one-on-one meetings.

Both Irish and British officials said they hope the White House will not scrap plans for Haass to ultimately visit Dublin and Belfast.

"I think it will be key that London and Dublin resume their talks quickly after the election and allow the U.S. to remain engaged and insert ourselves when the primary participants deem appropriate," a White House official said of Haass’s contributions.

The official said there was agreement from all the negotiators that the Bush administration’s input would be helpful.

There are indications that Haass may bring along an economic incentive for the Northern Irish politicians who have been stuck on fully implementing the 1998 Good Friday accord.

One Irish diplomat said, "President Bush said peace in Northern Ireland was ‘in the U.S. national security interest’ and you don’t just say that and then do nothing."

Previously, Haass, while in London, met with almost a dozen of the key figures from Dublin, London and Belfast.

"We know that Richard Haass is ready to work on the process, and it will only strengthen the talks after the [British] election to know that the U.S. and its president are willing to work on this," the diplomat added.

Administration officials realize that efforts to resuscitate the process after it was parked by negotiators last February will become increasingly urgent as another marching season, with all its inherent tension, approaches rapidly.

Asked whether Bush would do any late-night phone calls to rally negotiations as his predecessor, Bill Clinton, had conducted, the administration official said, "We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but we are ready to engage."

As to any chance that Mr. Bush could include a visit to Ireland when stopping off in nearby England next month, the White House said there are no plans for the president to pay a call at this time.

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