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President Bill Clinton speaking in Dublin
"I don't think reversal is an option"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 11:36 GMT
Clinton begins final Irish visit
The Clintons arrive in Ireland
Touchdown: Bill Clinton's third visit to Ireland
President Clinton has begun a visit to Ireland amid warnings that he is unlikely to break the political deadlock surrounding the peace process.

Air Force One touched down in Dublin at 0830 GMT on Tuesday after delays caused by strong head winds as it crossed the Atlantic.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, accompanied by daughter, Chelsea, were greeted on their arrival in Dublin by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and other members of the Irish government.

The presidential party then travelled to the American ambassador's residence, before visiting President Mary McAleese and her family at her home, Aras an Uachtarain.

On Tuesday evening he will travel to Belfast ahead of a day of meetings with Northern Ireland politicians.

The parties are deadlocked over the issues of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, particularly those of the IRA, policing reforms, and demilitarisation. The refusal of the Ulster Unionists to authorise the attendance of Sinn Fein ministers at meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council is also a major problem.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson said there was unlikely to be any political breakthrough in the current impasse until after Mr Clinton's visit.

Peter Mandelson
Mandelson: Gentle movements needed
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Mandelson said: "I am not looking for a breakthrough, some great new peace deal. It's really not what we need.

"What we need is gentle bits of movement on a number of key issues, a number of people's concerns addressed so that we can overcome the problems that we have at the moment.

"I think what President Clinton can do is edge people forwards but also edge them together so that they are prepared to meet each other's concerns and make things work in a way that in recent weeks they seem to have been less willing to do.

"I hope it's the confidence that people need to accommodate each other that President Clinton will help foster during his visit here this week."

Asked if the IRA came up with "something positive" during the visit whether there would be time for the president to explore it in detailed negotiations, Mr Mandelson replied: "Yes he does have time."

He said any move on demilitarisation - such as the removal of army bases - would have to be preceded by a reduction in the security threat.

"I don't just mean the incidents of terrorist activity, but a reduction in the level of capability of terrorist organisations.

"That must mean the start of decommissioning."

'Routine' meeting

Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble met Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street on Monday evening.

But Mr Blair's spokesman denied that any deal was being prepared and said that the meeting was "a matter of course" to discuss Mr Clinton's visit.

Earlier, Mr Trimble reiterated a call for the president to help shift republican and loyalist paramilitaries from their "intransigent positions" on starting a weapons decommissioning process.

Gerry Adams:
Adams: No sign of package
Sinn Fein hopes to lobby Mr Clinton on the issue of demilitarisation, and what it sees as the British Government's failure to implement fully the policing reforms proposed by Chris Patten.

But Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "I can only say that there is no evidence that there will be any kind of package which will break this impasse at this time."

Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, which has links to loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters, said he also intended to urge Mr Clinton to put pressure on the IRA to re-engage with the decommissioning body.

Deportations stopped

Meanwhile, the outgoing president has backed the decision to halt the deportation from the US of nine Irish nationals convicted of IRA-related crimes.

The decision to halt the deportation proceedings was made at the request of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

In a statement, President Clinton said the decision was consistent with steps taken by the British government to release paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland and to re-integrate them into society as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

"While in no way approving or condoning their past criminal acts, I believe that removing the threat of deportation for these individuals will contribute to the peace process in Northern Ireland," he added.

Tour engagements

After a day of engagements in Dublin, the presidential party will travel on to the border town of Dundalk in County Louth where Mr Clinton will make a public address on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, he will have talks with the main pro-agreement parties at Stormont, before speaking publicly at the new Odyssey Centre in Belfast.

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See also:

11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton's Irish farewell
11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton considers NI peace role
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton 'will not negotiate' in NI
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Bill Clinton 1-0 Belfast Giants
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