By Susan Falvella Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite his domestic political woes, President Clinton is planning a winter initiative to "finish the job" of implementing the Good Friday peace accord.
A senior administration official, speaking exclusively this week to the Echo, indicated that Clinton has plans to continue helping bring about a lasting peaceful solution to Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
As only the second president ever to be impeached by the House of Representatives, Clinton now faces either a protracted trial in the Senate or a censure resolution.
Either outcome diminishes his historical stature. But Clinton is still determined not to be distracted from his set course on Ireland.
"It would be ridiculous to say it hasn’t been difficult," said the official, referring to impeachment.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
"But even as the president spoke to Tony Blair about Iraq, the two discussed the North," he added.
It is the White House’s opinion — one that is shared by the Irish government – that "outsiders still need to be involved."
It was thought until recently that the feuding parties in the North could be weaned off such help, but the difficulties in setting up the North-South bodies proved to many that the process is still a tenuous one.
"It was harder than we thought it would be," the Clinton advisor said. "It’s looking like the February deadline is going to come and go and we are prepared to work on a new initiative to help get things going."
Such an initiative will mean meetings on the ground between White House officials and the political party leaders. If the timing continues at the current pace, St. Patrick’s Day could become the focal point.
President Clinton’s meetings with many of the party leaders at the White House last St. Patrick’s Day was seen to have kick-started the then faltering process and led to the Good Friday accord less than a month later.
As far as decommissioning by the IRA, the White House does not expect any to take place soon. The administration congratulated the loyalist LVF for handing in certain weapons last week, but it believes there are different constraints attached to the IRA.
"We won’t see it until it happens. They are not going to telegraph any signals ahead of time," the official said.
The Clinton administration does believe that there will ultimately come a time when the IRA hands in weapons, but the view from the White House is that this will take time.
Mrs. Clinton also intends staying involved in Irish issues. She will participate in a Project Children event at the Kennedy Center next month in support of the program that brings together Protestant and Catholic kids from Northern Ireland for vacations in the U.S.
"The President feels strongly that what has been accomplished so far should not be lost and will provide whatever extra effort is needed to get the job done," the official said.