Clinton Won't Get Involved In Negotiations During N. Ireland Visit

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - President Clinton will pay a farewell visit to Northern Ireland next week, but will not intervene in negotiations aimed at salvaging another of his administration's peace initiatives that has recently threatened to run aground.

National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said in a White House briefing that Clinton would use the visit to remind the people and leaders in the province "how far they've come, what's at stake, how much they have to lose by going back."

"He will try to lift their sights a bit from the challenges of the moment to the more distant horizon, which is a lasting and durable peace," Berger said.

He added that Clinton will not get involved in negotiations and said he did not expect that unresolved issues would be sorted out during Clinton's visit.

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, First Minister in Northern Ireland's governing body, wrote to Clinton a week ago urging him to use his visit to pressurize republican paramilitaries to disarm.

The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement is in danger of unraveling because of the disarmament issue, as well as republican demands for the province's police force to be reformed.

Pro-British Protestant unionists warn that the Irish Republican Army's continuing failure to get rid of its guns and explosives - or "decommission" its weapons in the jargon of the agreement - threatens the entire process.

Roman Catholic Republicans say the mainly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary needs drastic reform if it's to be accepted by the wider community as a non-partisan force.

The IRA said in a statement this week that it was still committed to gradual disarmament, but only if Britain fulfilled its obligations on police reform and lowering the number of troops in Northern Ireland.

The British government said it was prepared to withdraw more troops if the security situation improved, and especially if the IRA started to disarm. The paramilitary group has allowed international monitors to visit three arms dumps, but has not permitted any weapons to be removed or destroyed.

Giving his assessment of the process, Berger said it was "working" inasmuch as politicians from either side of the sectarian divide were sharing power for the first time in 30 years.

"But there are still real hurdles to an enduring peace," he added, citing the disarmament and policing issues.

"Like any peace process, this is a difficult - implementation is difficult," Berger conceded. "The light at the end of the tunnel, on this and most peace processes, is often another tunnel.

"And what the president is basically going to do there is to try to contribute to the environment in which the current differences can be resolved."

Berger said he thought Clinton had been "uniquely successful" as a peacemaker - in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa and- "even with its current problems" - the Middle East.

Clinton will visit Dublin, Belfast and the UK during his two-day trip starting Tuesday morning, and will meet the Irish and British prime ministers, as well as the Queen.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will accompany him and, Berger said, be involved in "separate events" while in Ireland.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow