INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
Q Mr. President, it's two days to go until the deadline in Northern Ireland. Obviously a crucial week. The politicians still at loggerheads, apparently. What is it that you want them to do now in this make-or-break time?
THE PRESIDENT: I want them to remember how strongly the people voted for peace and for the Good Friday Accords, and to find an honorable resolution of the admittedly thorny problems. Because whatever the difficulties of going forward, they are very small compared to the difficulties of letting the peace process fall apart.
Q When you say there are "thorny problems," and the difficulty -- and especially the problem of decommissioning, would you be urging the Sinn Fein to do what Ulster Unionists are urging Sinn Fein to do, namely, to sign up to a timetable for disarmament and give a categorical assurance that the IRA will disarm completely by May 2000?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that all the parties should fully comply with the terms of the Good Friday Accords, and that's what I would say. I think that they all have to find a way -- we know what the problems, the legitimate problems the Sinn Fein have with the decommissioning issue. But it's an important part of the Good Friday Accords, so there has to be a resolution of it that enables the leadership of the Unionists, Mr. Trimble and the others who have fought for peace, to survive, to sustain their position, and to go forward and get everybody on their side to honor the Good Friday Accords, too.
They can find a way to do this, if they decide that the price of failure is far higher than the price of compromise. And I think there's a good chance they'll do it, even if it's eleventh hour, I do.
Q Well, what about the Ulster Unionists? Their position has been that there has to be guns handed over, actual hardware, before Sinn Fein can go into government. Do you think they should be considering moving ahead on the basis of pledges rather than actually looking for the armaments?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I believe that on that score, Mr. Trimble is satisfied in these talks with whatever commitment is made, and I think they should give it a chance to work.
One thing I would say to the Unionists is that they can always walk away from this if the commitments aren't made at a later date. And they should keep in mind -- they can bring this down at any time by simply walking out if the commitments aren't kept. So I think that if Mr. Trimble can be satisfied, and they can work it through, then I would hope the Unionists would support him and give him a chance -- give this thing a chance to work.
Q Now, this political deadline is also coinciding with the annual deadline -- in Northern Ireland of the Drumcree March -- an announcement on the Drumcree March is imminent. There are extremely strong indications that the Orangemen won't be allowed to go down the Catholic section of the Garvaghy Road. How concerned are you about what the impact of a refusal to let the Orangemen go down Garvaghy Road could be, both on the street and on the political process?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as an outsider, you know, to me this looks like the most difficult of decisions because it is -- there's enormous emotional content on both sides. It's not just a matter of a lot of people walking on a certain road. And I think however it is resolved this year, the most important thing is that the parties themselves try to find a larger, omnibus resolution for this that reflects the spirit of the Good Friday Accords.
Keep in mind, I mean, the spirit of the Good Friday Accords is that both sides should have respect for and get respect from one another, and that no one should have to give up his or her heritage or traditions, but they should be pursued with some sensitivity to how others feel as well.
So I think that they're in a terrible bind now because the Drumcree deadline is coming up against the negotiation deadline. And so, however it's resolved, I think that what the leaders should be thinking about is, what is the long-run resolution of this? How can we show one another the necessary respect and sensitivity that will put this marching issue in the context of the commitment of the Good Friday Accords, which is to push toward reconciliation and equality within the principle of consent?
Q At the time of the Good Friday agreement you waited up through the night in Washington, inside the White House, seeing how the negotiations were working out. You went on the phone personally and spoke to the main parties and tried to coax them forward. This week, with a new deadline, are you willing to do the same, to intervene personally?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely. I'll do whatever I can to help. You know, this means a lot to me. It means a lot to the American people. We have tens of millions of Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants who are deeply invested emotionally, and many of them financially, in Northern Ireland, and would like to be more involved.
And I also believe, as I have said many times, that if this can be resolved -- if we can get over this next hurdle and go forward -- I think it will give courage to the advocates of peace in the face of religious and ethnic problems in other parts of the world. You know, we're just getting off the ground with our efforts in Kosovo. There are many difficulties there, and the accumulated grievances there, from mass killing and mass uprooting, are deeper, if you will, just in terms of human loss than all the things that have happened in Ireland.
But people have this sense that the divisions in Ireland go back such a long time, that if they can be overcome, I think it would give great heart to the proponents of peace in the Balkans and Africa, and the Middle East, because -- the new Prime Minister is about to announce a government there, we have a chance again to make progress and peace in the Middle East.
And I think that from my point of view, as someone who's interested in not only the country of my roots, but the rest of the world, I think that it's hard to overstate, it's hard to overstate the impact a positive or a negative outcome could have on such actions in the rest of the world.
Q Finally, Mr. President, there's only so much that you, or, indeed, the British and Irish Prime Ministers can do to coax people along. Is this the time when Northern Ireland's political leaders have to stand on their own two feet?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think they can know that we can coax them and we can stand with them and we can support them, and we can bring the benefits in all kinds of ways after this is resolved, but in the end, the leaders have to decide.
The people have voted for peace. But that's a general principle; the particulars are always difficult. And again, I would say, I think the important thing is to keep this going. Somebody -- if there is a necessary commitment given by all sides, and then, later, any of those commitments are not kept, this thing can always be brought down because the commitments were not kept. But I think it would be terrible to let it come apart now, before we get to see and feel how it really works.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
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