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Northern Ireland back on State Department agenda

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington’s dealings with the Northern Ireland issue will return to the State Department, a top Bush administration adviser said this week.

And in an interview on the day prior to his inauguration as president, George W. Bush said he would not appoint a special envoy to Ireland as had been the case with his predecessor.

In comments to a reporter, President Bush was quoted as admiring the work of George Mitchell on the Good Friday accord but said there would not be "hands on dealings and deadlines imposed" from his White House.

His predecessor, President Clinton, primarily assigned Northern Ireland to his National Security Council.

The NSC is housed in the White House West Wing and this allowed for personal and intimate involvement by Clinton in the evolving U.S. effort to push the North peace process forward.

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In former administrations, Democratic and Republican, Northern Ireland was left mainly in the hands of the State Department, long viewed by many Irish Americans as a bastion of anglophile sentiment.

However, one GOP source told the Echo this week that the State Department under Colin Powell would not be the same as it was during previous Republicans administrations when it comes to Ireland.

"Powell wants to be in charge of foreign policy, but he is open to listening," the source said.

During his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, Powell was twice asked for his views on the North. In reply to a question from Senator Chris Dodd, the new secretary of state stressed his strong support for the Good Friday agreement.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he had received a letter from Bush assuring continued U.S. support for the peace process and a personal interest from the new president.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams also received a letter from the new president.

"I remain dedicated to supporting the peace process in Northern Ireland," Bush wrote Adams.

"We will undoubtedly face a number of challenges in the years ahead. I am confident that, with a spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and open dialogue, we can successfully meet these challenges," Bush wrote in the letter, which preceded his inauguration and was addressed to the Sinn Féin office in Washington.

Meanwhile, there was renewed speculation this week that Clinton might yet play a role in the North’s slow-moving peace process.

One of his last phone calls from the White House was to Gerry Adams.

Former White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Clinton’s interest in Ireland had not dimmed but rather had become more concentrated over the last few weeks.

"It would not be surprising for Bill Clinton to speak on behalf of peace in Northern Ireland once out of office, and that if called to do so, he would participate in any way that could be seen as constructive," Crowley said.

Before Clinton’s exit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair heaped praise on the 42nd president. He noted Clinton’s "unwavering commitment" in the effort to establish peace in Northern Ireland.

Irish Americans, meanwhile, were active in the Bush inaugural celebrations. The American Ireland Fund hosted a reception at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building. Guests sported Stetson 10-gallon cowboy hats with "The American Ireland Fund" imprinted on the side.

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