Unionists turn to Al Gore, one of Ulster's grandsons

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The Independent Online
THE ULSTER Unionists believe they have found an ally in US Vice- President Al Gore, whose ancestors came from Northern Ireland.

Beleaguered and isolated at Westminster, the Unionists are looking to Mr Gore to tilt US policy on Northern Ireland away from the "pan-nationalist agenda" which they say the Clinton Administration has been pursuing for the past two years.

Washington insists it has been careful to favour neither side in its dealings with Northern Ireland, but American overtures to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, and the central role played by Irish-American politicians like Senator Teddy Kennedy in advising the President have left Unionists deeply sceptical.

Unionist anger at the Framework Document prompted Mr Gore to intervene directly and telephone the US Ambassador to London, Admiral William Crowe, in an attempt to find out why they were so furious about the proposals for north-south bodies and other constitutional changes.

Mr Gore has referred to his own Scots-Presbyterian forebears (his grandmother was born in Northern Ireland) whenever he has met Unionist delegations and has gone out of his way to reassure them that the Clinton Administration's policy would be even-handed.

After Mr Gore's call to Ambassador Crowe, a lengthy meeting was held between a senior US diplomat in London and James Molyneaux, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, a move interpreted as a sign that Washington intended to be strictly impartial on Northern Ireland.

The Rev Martin Smyth MP, the UUP's foreign affairs spokesman, then led a three-man delegation to Washington to discuss their participation in the forthcoming White House conference on trade and investment in Ireland, to be held in May. It will be chaired by the President and is the first major address by a sitting US president on Northern Ireland. The Unionists have agreed to take part if the focus of the event is economic, rather than political.

"The Clinton Administration has pursued a nationalist agenda," said Rev Martin Smyth MP, the US spokesman of the UUP, "but that now seems to be changing."

Mr Gore's intervention in Northern Ireland - an area which President Clinton sees as a major foreign policy success - is evidence of the growing influence of the Vice-President. In the United States he was already well respected for his expertise on environmental affairs and cyberspace - indeed, he popularised the term "information superhighway". But he has transformed the role of the Vice-President from that of "chief funeral attender" to being the President's closest adviser on foreign and domestic issues, taking on some of the traditional roles of the President, the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor in trying to solve difficult foreign policy issues. Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, dubbed him "the most influential Vice-President in history".