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Clinton to meet N. Irish leaders
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- President Bill Clinton is in Belfast for meetings with Northern Ireland's leaders where he is expected to repeat the need for peace and reconciliation.
His meeting with Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble comes the day after he gave a keynote speech across the Irish border in Dundalk, a town that has been a stronghold of the Irish Republican Army.
"You stared violence in the face and said, 'No more'," he told the Dundalk crowd, "You stood up for peace then, and I ask you, stand up for peace today, tomorrow and the rest of your lives."
Clinton's visit -- his third to the region as president -- comes at a crucial stage in the peace process, with political arguments over the speed of disarmament by the paramilitaries and concerns about the reforms of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
"The president's trip has intensified the pace of discussions among the parties and between the governments, and I think that's good," said Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser.
"The president hopes that his presence here, his private conversations and his public dialogue with the people here, will remind them what's at stake."
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Clinton had come at a time when the region's people needed "to be encouraged to persevere in the achievement of what remains to be done."
The president's visit to Dundalk gave him the opportunity to pay an emotional tribute to efforts to achieve peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and urge those on all sides of the conflict to continue to try to end violence.
He told the estimated 60,000-strong Dundalk crowd: "In the end you cannot win by making your neighbour lose. It is a new day in Dundalk and a new day in Ireland.
"As I prepare to leave office, a large part of my heart will be in Ireland for all of my life."
His speech also praised Dundalk as an example of Ireland's economic turnaround noting that the republic was now the fastest growing economy in the developed world.
"This is now a boom town," Clinton said to cheers. "You are the proof of the fruits and wisdom of peace."
The Dundalk rally ended with Clinton, his eyes squeezed shut, joining in singing the beloved Irish song "Danny Boy."
CNN.com 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," Oakley said.
"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."
Clinton, who was a prime mover behind the 1998 Good Friday accord, which sought to end 30 years of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland between the pro-British Protestant majority and Catholic minority, was being accompanied to Stormont for his meeting with Trimble by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
After the Stormont meetings, Clinton will give a speech at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast's new indoor entertainment facility before going with Blair to London.
On Thursday he will meet Queen Elizabeth II before delivering a foreign policy address at the University of Warwick.
'Stand up for peace,' says Clinton
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