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Real IRA escapes U.S. terror list

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON D.C. — The United States is not considering placing the Real IRA on the State Department’s list of global terrorist groups — at least for now.

British officials have been working in recent weeks on both the Clinton White House and the State Department in an effort to have the Real IRA included on the list.

The Echo reported last week that Irish government officials have been resisting the attempt on the basis that it might cause more harm than good by elevating the status of the group that is being held responsible for the Omagh bombing.

"Despite being preoccupied with the Middle East and U.S. elections, President Clinton remains focussed on this issue," said one senior White House official.

Acknowledging reports of discussions, but no agreement, between the Irish and British governments over the Real IRA’s status, the official said there was not a sense that "it would do much good" to see the relatively small band of dissident republicans included in the same list as some of the world’s most prolific and deadly terrorist organizations.

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"We know that now is a good time to keep a low profile, but we’ll be there to offer whatever assistance we can," said the White House official. He added that Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been in contact over the last few days about the situation in Northern Ireland.

Against the backdrop of the apparent impasse over the Real IRA’s status, Clinton moved last week to reassure Unionists who are concerned over support for the Real coming from America.

In an op-ed article published in the Belfast Telegraph, Clinton said that U.S. law enforcement agencies would aggressively target any effort to undermine the peace process through illegal activities in the United States.

In the article, entitled "Why the Good Friday Agreement is Working," Clinton expressed the view that the agreement, despite real difficulties, was still viable.

"Two-and-one-half years later, the Agreement is working, but it is

straining under intense criticism," the president wrote. "I know that many in the unionist community feel deeply uncomfortable with changes relating to security and have concerns that the right to express British identity is being attacked. Nationalists and republicans have voiced concerns of their own about prospects for full equality and implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.

"I believe the Good Friday Agreement is fully capable of addressing these concerns. Now is the time to reaffirm its core principles. The principle of consent: no decision on changing the constitutional connection linking Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom will be made without support from a majority of Northern Ireland voters. This expresses respect for British sovereignty in Northern Ireland — and also for the legitimate wish of Irish people to pursue a united Ireland …"

On the highly charged issue of policing, Clinton wrote: "Everyone in Northern Ireland, including the police, deserve the chance to prove themselves anew under the Agreement. That said, for police reform to work, the entire community must take ownership of the process, taking not just the pain of the past, but more importantly the demands of the future, into account. The opportunity to achieve a police service that is broadly acceptable and fully accountable is too important and too close at hand to be lost to political brinkmanship."

Clinton closed his op-ed in Belfast’s largest newspaper by saying he looked forward to visiting the city for a third time but hoped it would be to celebrate obstacles surmounted rather than an effort to resuscitate another peace process.

Meanwhile, the New York Times, in an editorial, has called for a halt to any further watering down of the Patten Commission’s recommendations on police reform in the North. It also called on the Provisional IRA to speed up its decommissioning of weapons.

"The RUC is more than 90 percent Protestant, and is viewed by many Catholics as an occupying force," the Times editorial, published late last week, stated.

"The pending police bill seeks to turn it into a service that Catholics will join – a necessary foundation for peace. The police reform bill’s modest changes have not gone far enough to win the support of the moderate Catholic party. It does not, for example, investigate the RUC’s past abuses and weed out guilty officers. It should not be watered down further.

"The IRA, for its part, must take steps to help Protestants understand what they can win by sharing power. The most important step is disarmament. The IRA has always refused to turn over its weapons. After a long battle, it grudgingly opened the arms caches to international inspection, but so far the IRA has allowed only one inspection and has not fully cooperated with the disarmament commission established by the peace process. A real embrace of disarmament would go a long way toward winning the trust of Protestants and keeping the peace agreement alive."

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