Clinton visit plan gets mixed reception in Ulster

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The Independent Online
Bill Clinton's offer to visit Northern Ireland as the peace talks enter their final stage this May met with a mixed response in the province yesterday.

The United States President gave an assurance to Tony Blair during their Washington talks that he was willing to go to Belfast if the peace process stays on track. His visit would probably take place in mid-May - the time the deadline for agreement which has been set.

Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party welcomed the possibility, but the Ulster Unionists accused the President of interfering at a crucial time in the peace process. The Unionist deputy lord mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers, said: "Quite clearly he is intending to come here to try to influence as well as interfere in our affairs and I think he has as many problems of his own in America."

Party leader David Trimble was dismissive of the proposed visit: "I can quite understand his desire to be away from Washington," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Dodi McGuinness said the visit would be "welcome", although privately Sinn Fein sources said there were "several hurdles to get over" before they could envisage a presidential visit to seal any agreement.

Mark Durkan, of the SDLP, said: "We would welcome this as an indication of the President's on-going commitment to the peace process here. He has always been keen to support the affairs of the two governments ... and no doubt any further visit would take place on that basis."