By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Clinton and British Prime Minister set time aside during the G8 summit in Cologne last weekend to discuss the gathering crisis in Northern Ireland.
Blair updated Clinton on the situation in Northern Ireland as the June 30 deadline looms. The President offered to do whatever he could to help.
Blair’s spokesman told reporters afterward that the two leaders met at the outset of the Group of Eight summit and had agreed that the Northern Ireland peace process was "in a crucial spot."
In two previous situations when Northern Irish politicians were mired in time-pressed negotiations, President Clinton interceded successfully.
"You can expect him to be ready to help at any time of the day or night in the coming days," said a White House spokesman. And though U.S. officials warn that a successful launch to the new Northern Ireland political process envisioned in the Good Friday accord needs to be exercised by self determination and motivation, no one in Washington is forgetting the dynamic Clinton has added to such efforts in the past.
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Meanwhile, Congressman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, said last week that it was paramount that issues over the formation of the Northern Ireland governing executive should be resolved, not just because it would carry out the democratic wishes of those who voted in last year’s elections, but because of the message it would send to both sides in the upcoming marching season.
"That’s going to be a flashpoint of great anger," Neal said of the marches in and around Portadown and Drumcree. "If the negotiations continue to fall by the wayside because of Unionist intransigence, it’s only going to send the wrong signal to the people on the ground."
Even before Cologne, meanwhile, Ireland crept onto the presidential radar screen. Enjoying a late spring day in Paris last Thursday, Clinton strolled the legendary boulevards of the French capital and was mobbed with well wishers.
At one point he was approached by a young man with an Irish accent who thanked him for his work on the peace process.
"We’re keeping our fingers crossed," Clinton responded.