Clinton urges more talks to cement peace

President's message: 'You must not allow the ship of peace to sink on the rock of old habits and hard grudges'
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DAVID MCKITTRICK

Ireland Correspondent

President Clinton yesterday steered a middle course between the British government and Irish nationalists in his keynote addresses in Belfast and Londonderry.

He pleased London by demanding an end to the so-called punishment beatings by paramilitary groups, and calling on organisations such as the IRA to acknowledge that the violence was over for good.

But at the same time he pleased republicans by staging a public handshake on the Falls Road with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, and by declaring in his speech: "You must be willing to say those who renounce violence that they are entitled to be part of the democratic process. Those who show courage to break with the past are entitled to their stake in the future."

Those sentiments will also be welcomed by the Irish government, which has for many months been pressing London to accelerate the pace of the peace process and to move more quickly towards negotiations involving Sinn Fein.

Nationalists were also cheered by the prominence given by the President to John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, during his visit to Londonderry. Mr Hume accompanied Mr Clinton throughout his appearances in the city centre.

There was something too in the visit for Unionists, with Mr Clinton spending time in a local enterprise unit in predominantly Protestant east Belfast, accompanied for part of the time by Peter Robinson, of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Party. The President several times pledged continuing economic support for Northern Ireland, something guaranteed to please all sides.

His words, and his care to stage walkabouts on both the Falls and Shankill Roads, were signs of the White House anxiety to strike a balanced approach in its interventions in the peace process.

But although great care was taken not to offend any section, it is clear that the US administration leans more towards Dublin's view of the peace process than to London's, agreeing with Dublin that more push is needed towards an all-inclusive process.

He illustrated this when he declared: "Engaging in honest dialogue is not an act of surrender but an act of strength and common sense. Moving from ceasefire to peace requires dialogue."This view may colour the attitude of George Mitchell, the President's political ally and close friend, who is to head the international body considering the issue of the de-commissioning of paramilitary weaponry.

The two latest appointments to the body have been confirmed. General John de Chastelain, 58, has been Canadian Defence Chief of Staff since 1989. Harri Holkeri, also 58, was Prime Minister of Finland between 1987 and 1991.

The success of the visit means that Mr Clinton is likely to take an even closer interest in the process in future. He said in one of his speeches: "You, the vast majority - Protestant and Catholic alike - must not allow the ship of peace to sink on the rock of old habits and hard grudges.

"You must say to those who still want to use violence for political objectives 'You are the past, your day is over. Violence has no place at the table of democracy, and no role in the future of this land'."

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