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Major Garrett in Ireland with President Clinton
White House Correspondent Major Garrett is traveling with President Bill Clinton in Ireland as the president continues to urge all parties to push for comprehensive peace for Northern Ireland.
Q: What is President Clinton hoping this trip will accomplish?
GARRETT: One thing he hopes will be accomplished is that Protestants and Catholics will renew their efforts to reach a compromise on some key issues that remain unresolved from the Good Friday accords that were signed in 1998. That put the Catholics and Protestants in a power-sharing government, but it left unresolved some issues like how to deal with the police force in Northern Ireland, how to disarm the Irish Republican Army and Protestant terrorist groups.
Those issues still remain unresolved, and until they are fully resolved, there is a chance that the Good Friday accord -- which has brought a degree of peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland -- could collapse. So, one last time before he leaves the White House, President Clinton wanted to come here and personally look in the eyes of everyone who negotiated that accord and tell them, ďKeep working because itís worth the effort.Ē
Q: How realistic is any sort of breakthrough?
GARRETT: United States officials who have been traveling with the president have dramatically played down any such expectations of a breakthrough. Neither Ireland, Northern Ireland or British government officials have taken issue with that. They believe what will happen here is that all sides will get together and try to improve the atmosphere.
Thereís no particular deadline. Thereís no crisis right now. Thereís no evidence that this process is even breaking down. What has happened though is the Protestants and the Catholics are a bit fatigued. The negotiations grind on; these issues are very emotional to the people they represent and it takes a lot of hard work and time.
I think the president, in part, wanted to boost them a little bit, give them a little bit of a nudge.
Itís worth pointing out that Ö President Clinton wants to take sort of a victory lap here in Ireland, because he has devoted a tremendous amount of attention and time here. Itís worked out much better than the Middle East peace process, which he has also devoted a lot of attention to. I think that before he left office he wanted to bask in the glow of what he has achieved here so far.
Q: What are the key hurdles that must be overcome if a new peace plan emerges?
GARRETT: There are really two key issues. One of them deals with disarming the Irish Republican Army, which is the Catholic Republican paramilitary force that has for years - but not recently - used terrorist attacks against the British government to push for its ultimate goal, which is a unified Republican Ireland.
Then, you have Protestant paramilitaries who have also used terror to strike back at the IRA.
The Good Friday accord stipulates that both the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitaries must decommission -- that they must give up their weapons or put their arms out of use. The IRA has taken some gradual steps in that direction, as have the Protestant paramilitaries, but there is still tremendous mistrust on both sides.
What is sort of lost in all of this negotiating and haggling is the fact that thereís been relative calm and peace throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland for about three years. And thatís brought with it some prosperity, as European and U.S. investors have seen that a calmer region is a good investment.
Thatís the key message the president is going to bring: With peace, you get prosperity.
Q: Has the president been well-received?
GARRETT: Extremely so. This is his third trip to Ireland in his eight years (in office). Everywhere he goes there is thunderous applause and thunderous cheers. More than any other U.S. president, Clinton has made the peace process here a large and significant U.S. international-policy goal.
Q: Will he act as a peace negotiator even after his tenure as president has ended?
GARRETT: He was asked that at a news conference with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. Clinton said he will support whatever the next president does.
I think itís implicit in this visit here that the next president -- whether itís Al Gore or George W. Bush -- probably wonít devote as much time or energy to their cause as President Clinton has.
Clinton urges N. Irish to clear hurdles
Northern Ireland Assembly
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