Clinton pays tribute to `brave' Major

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton last night went out of his way to repair the damage to the Anglo- American relationship by lavishly saluting John Major's "courage and conviction" in pursuing peace in Northern Ireland.

Mr Clinton reinforced an unexpectedly ringing endorsement of "an extraordinary relationship" which he insisted was "as important as ever" with a call to Sinn Fein to commit itself to the early decommissioning of arms.

Refusing to interfere in the Government's strategy of securing such a commitment before agreeing to ministerial talks with Sinn Fein, the President said at a White House press conference after meeting Mr Major: "Without a serious approach to arms decommission- ing there will never be a resolution of this conflict." He added that it was "entirely a decision for the British government to make when to have ministerial talks [with Sinn Fein]".

While the tone adopted towards the Government's delicate and tortuous process of negotiating preconditions for talks with the republicans was welcomed by officials travelling with Mr Major, the praise poured on him by the President was seen as a determined effort to make amends for the deep disagreement between the two sides over the fund-raising visa granted to the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, last month.

Mr Clinton said, after nearly three hours of talks with Mr Major, that the British Prime Minister had taken "considerable risks" in his pursuit of peace, "and I applaud that".

Leaning over backwards to say issues of foreign policy did not break down on ideological or party lines, Mr Clinton said he was "very comfortable" with his good personal relationship with Mr Major, one which he insisted could easily endure occasional disagreements.

The main development on policy unveiled by Mr Major after the talks yesterday was a measure of joint agreement on potentially far-reaching ideas for reform and "rationalisation" of both the Bretton Woods economic and financial institutions and the proliferation of United Nations agencies.

Mr Major said the ideas included the selling of some International Monetary Fund gold to poorer nations, and moves to bring together some "overlapping activities of the IMF, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Devlopment, and the World Bank. Mr Major cited an apparent overlap between the UN Environmental Programme and the Commission for Sustainable Development.

But Mr Major also reaffirmed what he insisted was the enduring strength of the Anglo-American relationship, saying the two heads of government had had a "good-humoured, productive, worthwhile and very far-reaching series of exchanges". He predicted the two governments would work together in breaking down trade barriers between Europe and the US. And he pointed to Britain's planned purchase of Tomahawk missiles as an example of the co-operation between the US and the UK on defence.

Yesterday's fence-mending operation came amid talk in Washington of a Congressional move to link US aid to Northern Ireland with the IRA's willingness to surrender its arms. British officials reacted cautiously to plans circulating among senior senators to link US government aid to the progress made by the IRA in decommissioning arms.

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