IRA Ceasefire: Clinton to discuss peace process with Dick Spring: American president will be seeking maximum credit for the breakthrough

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON is to meet Dick Spring, the Irish deputy prime minister, tomorrow at Martha's Vineyard, where Mr Clinton is on holiday. The White House said they will have talks about 'the cessation of hostilities' and the 'ongoing peace process' in Northern Ireland.

An hour after the ceasefire was announced, Mr Clinton telephoned Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, and John Major to congratulate them and promise that he was looking at an aid package for Northern Ireland. The call underlined the administration's wish to get as much credit as possible for its foreign policy success.

Mr Clinton said in a statement from the Massachusetts resort: 'The United States stands ready to assist in advancing the process of peace in Northern Ireland.' He urged the IRA and its followers 'to end the use and support of violence'. Mr Clinton has been more active on Ireland than previous presidents. By granting Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, a visa earlier in the year, he showed he would, on occasion, oppose British policy. Analysts in America believe his most useful role was in showing Sinn Fein and the IRA that a ceasefire could bring political dividends in the US.

Given Mr Clinton's need to show he is achieving something with his foreign policy - after setbacks in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti - he will want his contribution to the ceasefire to be as heavily publicised as possible. But the British embassy yesterday flatly denied reports that there were any plans for a three-way summit between Mr Clinton, Mr Reynolds and John Major.

Under President Bush and President Reagan, US policy on Ireland followed the lead set by Britain. Under Mr Clinton there have been some differences. He rang Mr Major just before the Downing Street declaration last December. Earlier this year, he rejected the advice of the State Department, Justice Department and FBI by admitting Mr Adams.

The White House is now congratulating itself that its decision then was correct. 'It was designed to show Gerry Adams and the IRA that there were political gains to be made in the US,' said an analyst. 'This influenced the debate in Sinn Fein and the IRA.' Tony Lake, the National Security Adviser, who advised Mr Clinton to give the visa, says he has never regretted his action.

The impact of the visit was borne out in an interview by Mr Adams on US television yesterday when he emphasised the priority he gives to US influence, saying: 'The Clinton administration has a primary role to play.'

He added that 'Irish America, the entire Irish diaspora, all who love freedom, have to try to ensure that this moment, this opportunity, is not squandered.'

Mr Clinton will also hope to benefit politically among Irish- Americans, many of whom abandoned their traditional Democratic allegiance to vote Republican in the 1980s.

Inevitably, Mr Clinton has political capital riding on the success of the ceasefire. With his administration taking some credit for bringing peace, it has an incentive not to let fighting resume.

Two other motives have played a role in Mr Clinton's involvement in Ireland. The most powerful Irish-American politician is Senator Edward Kennedy, who remains deeply interested in Ireland. Given Mr Clinton's difficulties in Congress, he needs Senator Kennedy's support.

Mr Clinton also has tense relations with John Major, which is a legacy of the presidential election, when the Home Office carried out a search for his passport documents and Conservative officials advised the Republicans.

Comments