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Clinton urges N. Irish to clear hurdles


DUBLIN, Ireland -- President Bill Clinton has called on the people of Northern Ireland to keep marching towards peace, stressing that only "three or four" issues remained to be overcome.

Clinton, who arrived in Dublin on Tuesday on a mission he described as exorcising the last demons in the way of peace, said those parties not involved in talks -- a reference mainly to extremist paramilitary groups -- should join up, not wreck hopes.

"I think we have to keep going. I don't think reversal is an option," Clinton told reporters before he went into a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

"I think the leaders just have to find a way through the last three or four difficult issues and I think it can be done. I'll do what I can."

Clinton ran into a hero's welcome on his arrival in Dublin as he was hailed as a "one-off" statesman more than welcome to stay involved in peace talks when his presidency ends.

A White House adviser had said on Monday the president would consider taking on a further role in the peace process.

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However, Clinton dimmed hopes that he might remain engaged in a formal way with Northern Ireland when his presidency ends on January 20.

"I think the new president, whoever it may be, will want to have a new team in place. And I want to support that. I will support whatever decision the new administration makes ... and if I can be a resource I will," Clinton said.

Making possibly his last official foreign visit, while still not knowing who will succeed him as president, Clinton said success in Northern Ireland would send a message around the world.

"I don't think you can possibly imagine the impact of success in the Irish peace process on trouble spots throughout the world," Clinton said. Europe political editor Robin Oakley said the importance of Clinton's visit should not be underestimated, despite British and Irish ministers playing down any expectation of a breakthrough.

"The British and Irish remain hopeful all the same that some of the presidential stardust will rub off. Politicians in all countries acknowledge that nobody can work a crowd like Bill Clinton. But his visit will be important not just to the people who glimpse him on his walkabouts or hear his speeches," said Oakley.

"His presence is a remainder to local politicians and paramilitaries embroiled in local rivalries and inherited disputes that there is a bigger world out there watching them and expecting them to lift their eyes to a distant horizon.

"The people of Northern Ireland know that the popular president has been responsible for directing much-needed investment in their direction," he said.

A 'one-off'

Clinton was a prime mover behind the scenes in Northern Ireland's 1998 Good Friday accord, which sought to end 30 years of sectarian strife between the British-ruled province's Protestant majority and Catholic minority.

But Northern Ireland's home-rule government has become bogged down in rows over how to reform the predominantly Protestant police force and get the guerrillas to disarm.

The most lavish praise for Clinton came from Britain's Northern Ireland Minister Peter Mandelson as the president began his three-day visit to Dublin, Belfast and London.

Mandelson played down expectations of a breakthrough but left no doubt that if anyone could do the impossible it was Clinton. "I think he is a one-off. He is a cross between a thoroughly charming and charismatic human being and a political computer," Mandelson said in a radio interview. "He reaches out to people. He has brilliant communications skills.

It is the third time Clinton has visited Ireland during his eight-year-long presidency.

After his visit to Dublin, Clinton goes to the border town of Dundalk before spending Tuesday night in the Northern Ireland capital Belfast. Former U.S. senator and Northern Ireland mediator George Mitchell will join him there on Wednesday for talks with the province's key leaders.

Mitchell chaired meetings of the divided politicians through 22 months of ultimately successful talks, doggedly keeping them at the negotiating table with a mixture of optimism, calmness and fairness which won him the respect of both the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities.

The former Senate majority leader oversaw the signing of the Good Friday accord in April 1998 only to be called back in for a successful, 11-week rescue mission in late 1999.

When he visits London later Wednesday, Clinton will meet Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. He returns to Washington on Thursday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

IRA signals action on disarmament
December 05, 2000
Clinton confirms N.Ireland trip
November 27, 2000
Clinton intervenes to save N.Irish peace process
October 20, 2000
Sinn Fein threatens legal action
November 15, 2000
N.Ireland leader Trimble accused of "provocation"
October 29, 2000
Clinton looks to end tenure with Ireland visit
August 08, 2000
Clinton urges N. Ireland militants to turn in arms
September 03, 1998
Clinton arrives in N. Ireland to boost peace efforts
September 03, 1998

Northern Ireland Assembly
British Government's Northern Ireland Office
The White House
Ulster Unionist Party
Sinn Fein
Royal Ulster Constabulary

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