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Remarks Of The President During Photo Opportunity With Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Dublin, Ireland

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Office of the Press Secretary
(Dublin, Ireland)

For Immediate Release September 4, 1998


Office of the Taoiseach
Dublin, Ireland

11:12 A.M. (L)

Q Mr. President, do you have any comments onSenator Lieberman's remarks?

THE PRESIDENT: I've been briefed on them andbasically I agree with what he said. I've already said that Imade a bad mistake, it was indefensible, and I'm sorry about it.So I have nothing else to say except that I can't disagree withanyone else who wants to be critical of what I have alreadyacknowledged was indefensible.

Q Do you think the Senate is the right format for

THE PRESIDENT: That's not for me to say. That'snot for me to say. I don't -- I've known Senator Lieberman along time, we've worked together on a lot of things, and I'm notgoing to get into commenting on that one way or the other.That's not -- it wouldn't be an appropriate thing for me to do.

Q But do you think it's helpful for him to makethat kind of --

THE PRESIDENT: It's not for me to say. But there'snothing that he or anyone else could say in a personally criticalway that I -- that I don't imagine that I would disagree with,since I have already said it myself, to myself. And I'm verysorry about it. There's nothing else I could say.

Q Mr. President, do you think an official censureby the Senate would be inappropriate?

THE PRESIDENT: I just don't want to comment onthat. I shouldn't be commenting on that while I'm on this trip,and I don't think that -- my understanding is that was not adecision that was made or advocated clearly yesterday. So Idon't want to get into that. If that's not an issue, I don'twant to make it, one way or the other. I don't think that'sappropriate right now.

Q Mr. President, it usually seems to take a visitfrom you to give the peace process a boost. Will we need to seeyou again?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, for the sake of the peaceprocess, I hope not. For my own sake, I hope so. But I hope thenext time I come it won't be in aid of the peace process becauseI hope it will be institutionalized and off and going.

I do think that a lot of progress has been made. Igive the Taoiseach a lot of credit, Prime Minister Blair, and theparty leaders. I think the statements in the last few days byGerry Adams and Mr. Trimble's response make me quite hopefulabout next week. And then, after that we'll just have to seewhere we go from there.

Q Mr. President, do you believe that from whatyou've heard from political leaders yesterday that David Trimbleis now ready to sit down with Gerry Adams in government inNorthern Ireland?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, they talkedabout meeting, and I think they need -- I expect that at somepoint there will be a meeting and I think that's a good thing.And then, we'll have to take the next steps. I think that whatyou want is -- what we all want is for the agreement to be fullyimplemented so that all parts of it -- the decommissioning, theparticipation in government by everyone who qualifies by vote ofthe people -- all parts of it will be fully implemented. And Ithink that eventually it will get there, and I hope it's soonerrather than later.

Q Mr. President, what were your views of Omaghyesterday? It was a very emotional day. You seemed to work thecrowd so well, you spent a lot of time meeting those people thereyesterday. What were your feelings?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, like everyone inthe world that knew about it, I was just overwhelmed by thedimension of the tragedy and the random, cruel nature of theviolence. And my experience has been, dealing with the familieswho have suffered a similar fate, is that they know there'snothing you can do to bring their loved ones back or bring theirlimbs back or give them sight or whatever else the problem maybe, but sometimes just listening to people's story and lettingthem say what they hope will happen next -- in many casesyesterday, letting them reaffirm their belief in the peace --sometimes that helps.

And what I was hoping to do yesterday was to bringthe support of the people of the United States as well as my ownand Hillary's to the families there, and just to give them achance to continue the healing process.

I must say I was very, very impressed with thepeople of the community, who turned out on the street where thebomb had exploded in large numbers to say hello to us and toencourage us. And I'm grateful for that. But it was an amazingexperience talking to those families in the building there andjust listening to them.

Q You were clearly moved by it.

THE PRESIDENT: Anyone would have been.

Q Mr. President, where do you rank the NorthernIreland peace process among the policy initiatives you've pursuedin office?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know about ranking. Itwas important to me. Once I realized that there was somethingthe United States could do, which probably happened somewhere inlate 1991, long before I was elected, I decided I would try. AndI just hope it succeeds.

I believe that -- at the end of the Cold War, Ithink the United States has a particular responsibility that goesbeyond my personal passion for the Irish question to do twothings. One is to do whatever we can, wherever we can, to try tominimize the impact of ethnic and religious and tribal and racialconflicts. And we're in this position of responsibility therebecause of where we find ourselves at the end of the Cold War.

In addition to that, I think we have a particularresponsibility to try to organize the world against the newsecurity threats of the 21st century -- the terrorism and narcotraffickers, the potential for the spread of weapons of massdestruction. And I have tried to do that.

I don't suspect that either of those jobs will becompletely done in 2001 when I leave office, but at least theworld will be on the way to having a framework to deal with boththe opportunities for peace and the challenges to security. AndI think you have to see the Irish question in that context --apart from my personal feelings about it. Because if you, all ofyou -- the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Taoiseach andthe Irish party leaders -- if you're able to make this peace go,as I said in Armagh yesterday, then we can say to the places --to the Middle East, we can say in the Aegean, we can say in theIndian subcontinent, we can say in the tribal strife of Africa,look at this thing that happened in Northern Ireland. There'sthe Troubles for 30 years, but there were conflicts for hundredsof years; this can be done.

And so the potential impact of resolving this couldwash over many more people than just those that live on thisisland.

Q Mr. President, how do you reconcile thepeaceful strides you've made in the Northern process with yourforeign policy and your reaction to the threat of Islamicmilitants and the air strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you have to, first ofall, look at what happened in the Middle East and here. In theMiddle East and here, I have worked hard to get people to turnaway from terror toward a peace process -- not just the Irishparties that had once participated in violence, but in the MiddleEast it's the same. The PLO has moved away from violence towardsthe peace process.

The problem with the bombings in our embassies inAfrica is that they were carried out by an operation which doesnot belong to a nation and does not have a claim or a grievanceagainst the particular nation that it wants to resolve so that itcan be part of a normal civic life. It is an organizationwithout that kind of political agenda. Its agenda is basicallyto strike out against the United States, against the West,against the people in the Middle East it doesn't like. And it isfunded entirely from private funds under the control of Osama binLadin, without the kind of objectives that we see that even onthe darkest days the Irish parties that were violent had, the PLOhad.

So it's an entirely different thing. And I thinkit's quite important that people see it as different, because oneof the things that we have to fight against is having the world'snarco traffickers tie up with these multinational or non-nationalglobal terrorist groups in a way that will provide a threat toevery country in the world. It's just an entirely differentsituation.

Q Taoiseach, how important was the President tothe developments that took place earlier this week which seemedto have injected a new momentum into the peace process?

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: They were immenselyimportant, because even if Omagh never happened and the terribletragedy that it was, in early September we had to focus back,preparing for the next meeting of the Assembly, for heading on topreparations for the executive, the North-South Council, and allof the other aspects of the agreement. And we needed to focusvery clearly on those. And what the President's visit has doneis it has got the parties to, I think, move what might have takenweeks and months over a very short period, because they looked atthe agenda that was set before us and they've made the moves.

Now, there are clearly more moves to be made. And Ithink what the President said in Armagh last night we wouldtotally agree with in the Irish government, because I think he'slaying down for us, and for all of us, that there is a path tofollow. If we are sensible, if we're brave, and then we followthat path, the reward is peace and stability and confidence. Ifwe don't, well, then the future is as gloomy as the past.

And I just believe that this visit at this time ithas been immensely important. It's given confidence to us all, Ithink, to move on. It's given -- confidence I think to theUnionist Party and Sinn Fein to make moves that are brave andefficient to the process. And we're very grateful not only forthis visit, not only for the last visit, but the fact that thisPresident of the United States has given us an enormous amount oftime, a huge amount of support, and an enormous amount ofencouragement to move forward. And we're very grateful for that.

Q How will history judge his role, PresidentClinton's role in the Northern Ireland peace process?

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Well, I always say, PresidentCarter and U.S. Presidents and successive Presidents andadministrations have taken an interest in affairs, and asupportive interest. But the facts are, never before have we hadsuch intense and sustained contact from the United StatesPresident, and that, in a period when we desperately need it tobe able to move forward. I said I think in Washington last Marchthat maybe it was the luck of the Irish, but we don't take it forgranted and we're very grateful for it.

THE PRESS: Thank you very much.

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Remarks Of The President with With Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Dublin, Ireland

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