Category: Archive

President commits

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George W. Bush’s commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process during his first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the White House went further than those who instigated it ever could have hoped.

"The United States stands ready to help," the president told an audience of Irish-American leaders and politicians assembled in the East Room of the White House last Friday. "It is in our national interest that there be a lasting peace, a real lasting peace, in Northern Ireland."

For three days leading up March 17, the Bush administration revealed how it would deal with Ireland and Northern Ireland. A special point person on the peace process was named, a cabinet secretary told to prepare for a trip to Dublin, and the president himself offered some of the most consequential language on the peace process ever.

All of this took place when at the outset the new president had planned little or no efforts in these areas. As little as three weeks ago, the White House had indicated a moderate interest in Ireland and its inherit issues.

"To be truthful, they needed to be nudged," one Republican on Capitol Hill said. "But they took it and ran with it more than we could have dreamed."

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As the week unfolded, the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, arrived here along with two representatives from most of the Northern Ireland political parties.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Vice President Dick Cheney met with many of the leaders prior to the Speaker’s Luncheon on Thursday.

As the bagpipes piped President Bush into the luncheon hosted by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, he was accompanied for the first time by his national security advisor and secretary of state. In remarks that many of the attendees later praised, the president outlined his initial commitments to the peace process, including a designating Richard Haass as the Bush administration’s point person on Ireland.

Haass, a Middle East advisor to the president’s father, will have ambassadorial rank in his capacity. The White House refuses to call him a "special envoy" because of previous promises to curb such positions, but ostensibly that is what the position reflects. As a fellow at a conservative think tank, Haass’s on-the-record comments on Northern Ireland have tended to shade the unionist position.

His defenders, however, including several congressional Republicans and presidential advisors, pointed out most of the writings were pre-Good Friday accord.

"Let’s give him a chance," said Rep. Peter King of New York, "but I promise that there will be no one more ready than me to see that Haass is fair to all sides."

Several Democrats were apparently disinclined to remain open minded. One key Democratic advisor on Ireland waved their hand at the White House reception occurring around them and remarked, "Let’s see if once the smoke and mirrors clear, there is any real substance to all of this."

On a lighter note during the luncheon, President Bush quipped, "You know I speak the way James Joyce wrote," to the laughter of all.

As the president made his way down the marble steps outside the House of Representatives building, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams made his way up to Bush and the two exchanged brief remarks. Although several British journalists took the occasion to note that Adams had private meetings with both Bush and Powell, the real story would have been if the president and secretary of state had chosen to meet with all of the other politicians and not Adams.

During a visit to Georgia this week, Adams praised Bush. "President Bush so openly said that peace in Ireland was in the national interest of the USA [and] I think that sends entirely the right signal," he said before returning to Belfast.

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