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Tuesday, April 14, 1998 Published at 05:33 GMT 06:33 UK

Clinton ready to visit N.Ireland
image: [ Mr Mitchell briefed the president on the peace deal ]
Mr Mitchell briefed the president on the peace deal

President Clinton has said he is willing to visit Northern Ireland if he is asked to do so by the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland.

Mr Clinton said the decision was largely up to Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. "If they think I should go - and they've got the biggest stake and the closest sense of the public - I would be happy to do it.

President Clinton: "I would be willing to go"
"But I have not decided to do it and it's really completely up to them," the president added.

He was speaking as he began a meeting with the former US senator George Mitchell, to thank him for brokering the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

Mr Mitchell warned that he expects to see more political violence between now and the referendum in May.

Mr Blair has already said he wants the president to play a decisive role in securing overwhelming support at the ballot box for the peace blueprint.

He believes that if Mr Clinton agrees to intervene, his visit to Northern Ireland could prove decisive in winning over nationalist and republican voters and further isolate fringe groups bent on wrecking the peace deal through violence.

Clinton intervention

[ image: Mr Clinton's last visit to Belfast was a huge success]
Mr Clinton's last visit to Belfast was a huge success
Mr Clinton intervened in 1995 when he became the first US president to visit Belfast while in office.

He was credited with both calming nerves in the province and reminding parties of the dangers of isolation.

"This agreement really doesn't finalise peace," Mr Mitchell said.

George Mitchell: "The president's role was critical"
"It creates the opportunity for peace and reconciliation. It's a good first step, but there's still a long way to go.

"There are people on both sides who want disrupt this process, who are committed to the way of violence.

"I expect they will step up their activities between now and the referendum. People will recognise this for what it is."

Tony Blair says people of vision must triumph
Mr Clinton will be in the UK in mid-May for the G10 summit of leading economic powers.

That would give him a chance to visit Northern Ireland ahead of the May 22 referendum in the north and the south - although some presidential aides are believed to be concerned that a visit could be interpreted as interference.

Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator at the talks, Martin McGuinness, added his voice to those calling on Mr Clinton to visit, praising the president for becoming "intellectually and emotionally" involved in The Troubles.

He said: "We have been really, really impressed by his knowledge of the situation and also by his commitment to the search for equality, for justice, and for peace in Ireland."

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