By Susan Falvella Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble will get the St. Patrick’s season rolling in Washington this week when he arrives in town to deliver a speech and meet with Capitol Hill politicians.
Trimble, first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is expected to use his time in Washington to press the case for continued sanctions against Sinn Féin.
At a speech at the National Press Club and in meetings on Capitol Hill, Trimble will explain his decision to reimpose the ban on Sinn Féin’s ministers attending sessions of the ministerial council.
Last Saturday, Trimble received the UUP executive’s support for the ban despite a judge’s decision that called the ban illegal.
Trimble will not have to face questions from the White House about his stance. The UUP leader, who in years past regularly made stops at the National Security Council’s offices in the West Wing, will meet with State Department officials this time around.
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The centerpiece of Trimble’s visit will be his participation in a panel discussion Thursday hosted by the New Atlantic Alliance, a conservative Republican think tank. The discussion will focus on emerging issues in foreign affairs.
On Friday, Trimble will be feted by the Nixon Center at a luncheon after his speech at the Press Club. Added to the usual mix of Hill Irish activists such as Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Jim Walsh is a scheduled visit with former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
In Trimble’s wake, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will arrive for an overnight visit with President Bush at the presidential retreat, Camp David, at the end of the month. Immediately after that visit, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen is due for a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell and NSC advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, plans are still unclear with regard to White House activities. The bowl of shamrock will be handed over by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to President Bush on Friday, March 16. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams will attend the annual Speaker’s Luncheon on the 15th along with the taoiseach.
A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s said there was no confirmation yet whether President Bush would attend.
"We’re hoping he comes," the spokesman said.
For the parties, the Irish government, and British officials, there is a certain adjustment to Washington’s new attitude toward the peace process.
"Times are different," said one official familiar with the situation. "But even if Gore had won, there would have been different personalities, different approaches, no one could have expected the same level of emotional interest [as the Clinton administration].
No decision has been made on whether there will be a British Embassy luncheon on St. Patrick’s Day as has taken place in recent years.
It appears increasingly unlikely that the White House will host an evening affair on the 17th.