Clinton pledges to work flat out for Ulster peace

PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday confirmed his personal commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, pledging himself to a "30-hour marathon effort to try to close as many gaps as I can in the Irish peace process". Speaking at the annual St Patrick's Day presentation of the shamrock at the White House, Mr Clinton urged all parties to look beyond short-term calculations and seize a "hopeful and historic opportunity for peace".

With the Irish peace talks at a crucial stage - they reconvene in Belfast on Monday for what the Government hopes will be one last concentrated sprint towards agreement by Easter - all the leading players were in United States for the holiday. As well as Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, and Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, had all travelled to Washington. And while they had separate meetings with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, at the White House and with the press, there was little of the studied avoidance of the past.

They dined together, though on separate tables, at the British embassy St Patrick's Day lunch on Monday, and this was the first time Gerry Adams had been invited to the Washington embassy. It also marked a change of emphasis for the embassy, whose St Patrick's Day lunch was arranged in the past as a counterweight to the overwhelmingly republican tone of festivities in America. They were together again at the White House in the evening for the St Patrick's Day party.

US officials said that they hoped the contacts in Washington would help create more flexibility in advance of the Belfast talks, and there was a general air of optimism among British and Irish officials. Echoing the view of his British counterpart, Tony Blair, that agreement was "agonisingly close", Mr Ahern, told CNN that "what's been negotiated since 24 September and what is now in substantive form in various proposals is very near conclusion".

Emerging from a 45-minute meeting with Mr Clinton on Monday night, Gerry Adams also sounded optimistic, saying: "I think there is the capacity to have an agreement." He added a hope that there would be no new violence: "I think hopefully there will nothing remiss, but if there is we cannot allow that to deflect us or to shoulder us off the path that we're on."

Ms Mowlam told reporters that she knew the Easter deadline set for agreement, to enable a referendum to be held before the end of May, would be "tight and tough". But she said she believed it would be met. In the absence of agreement, however, there would be no referendum: "If all parties campaigned against it, it would be political suicide," she said.

Praising the American contribution in the approach of the next, crucial stage of talks, Ms Mowlam said "the can-do American spirit has a positive effect". Mr Clinton had already had a positive impact by "providing a united front when we face difficulties" and nudging the parties "when progress had to be made". She also held out the possibility that he might make a return visit to Northern Ireland, perhaps before a referendum. "We are not urging him," she said, "but he would be most welcome."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee