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
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn