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Senator George Mitchell
Senator George Mitchell
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: SENATOR GEORGE MITCHELL PEACE NEGOTIATOR OCTOBER 28TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST:
The war on terrorism has generated waves of side effects across the world, not least by influencing the courses of two very different peace processes. In Israel the situation has destabilised beyond belief, in Northern Ireland the opposite has happened with the IRA's landmark decision to start decommissioning. One man has worked at the centre of both of those situations as the key peace negotiator in both Israel and Northern Ireland, he is of course Senator George Mitchell and I caught up with him earlier in New York and I began by reminding him that David Trimble had said this week this was the day they said would never happen and I asked him how confident he had been that it would happen sooner or later?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
I had felt all along David that there would be action and I've said so publicly on several occasions over the past months, I didn't know for sure how or when it would happen but I think that the path to peace has been irrevocably taken by the people of Northern Ireland. The one thing that's quite clear there is that while whatever differences remain and there are many, there is very little disposition to return to the full scale conflict of the troubles and except for a small minority on both sides and most people have seen the benefits of peace and relative, I emphasise, relative calm. There's tremendous construction in Belfast, there's economic growth, there's increasing travel and commerce, I think people don't want to go back and I think they won't ever go back to what existed during the troubles.

DAVID FROST:
General de Chastelaine, while not giving away any details has certified that this was truly taking the weapons out of use?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
I've known General de Chastelaine very well for many years, he is a man of total integrity who I believe all parties do have confidence in and should have confidence in.

DAVID FROST:
Jeffery Donaldson the Ulster Unionist MP who's opposed many aspects of the Good Friday Agreement is saying that his party should only really go back into government alongside Sinn Fein if this is proved to be just one step towards the total decommissioning by the IRA, is that your reading of the Good Friday Agreement?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
Eventually there has to be the total decommissioning of all weapons by all paramilitary organisations in a verifiable fashion and I think that must remain the objective. But I think that people ought to recognise what a huge and significant step this is because there is of course now no theoretical or other argument in the way of going forward. I would hope that all of those who have been in the Unionist side who have been critical of David Trimble's leadership will now recognise that he has been right all along, he's been quite courageous in taking these steps as have the other political leaders who are part of the pro-Agreement effort. They've taken huge political risks and I believe they've been vindicated now and I think all of those involved, those who have been supportive and those who have not been in the past ought now to draw together and make their Assembly work, the political leaders of Northern Ireland are as good as any political leaders I've met anywhere in the world, I'd put them up against any delegation of any Congress or Parliament anywhere. They can run Northern Ireland very well and now that's what they ought to concentrate on doing and not continuing to squabble over things that really ought to be in the past.

DAVID FROST:
And turning now to Israel, events so far in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authority have not so far come together so fortuitously, it's been a bad week in the Middle East?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
A very bad week after a bad few months, after a bad year, there's no sugar-coating it, it's been a very difficult time, there has been a continuing escalation, the numbers killed is shockingly high and the adverse effects in both societies is severe. When we, the committee on which I served and chaired released its report in May we urged an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence accompanied by resumption of security cooperation and a series of other steps to build confidence and to get the parties back into negotiations. Everything that has happened since then has increased the urgency of taking those steps. David we've been heartened by the very positive reaction to our report, virtually every government in the world has endorsed it including the government of Israel and the Palestinian authority. We've been very disheartened by the inability of the parties to implement the report which they themselves have praised and said they support and I think there has to now be a, a real urgency, a real intensity to the efforts by the United States, by the United Kingdom, the European Union, the UN and others, to try to get these parties to take that first dramatic step of ending violence so they can get into the process of rebuilding confidence and resuming negotiation.

DAVID FROST:
And do you think it's possible that Ariel Sharon is not necessarily the right man in the right place at the right time?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
I don't think that's a relevant question because he's been chosen by the people of Israel to lead them, I'm asked that a lot, really more often about Arafat in the United States, but it's not up to the United States or the UK or anyone else to tell the people of Israel who their leader should be, or the Palestinians who their leader should be. Both men have been chosen by their people to lead them at this time therefore they are the leaders with whom negotiations must occur and between whom negotiations must occur and we have to proceed on that basis. And in some respects it may be possible for them to move in ways that other leaders might not have been able to do so.

DAVID FROST:
And to quote again the words of David Trimble, do you think we will be able to talk in the foreseeable future about a situation in the Middle East where they have reached "the day they said would never happen"?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
Yes I do.

DAVID FROST:
You do?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
Yes I do, in fact I'm convinced of it and the reason is this, there are a lot of factors that contributed to the reaching of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998, in my assessment the most important factor was the war weariness of the people of Northern Ireland, they're sick of war, they're sick of this conflict, they're especially sick of the moving and emotional side of those small white coffins holding innocent children being buried amidst high emotion and deep grief and sorrow. I think the same thing's going to happen in the Middle East, on my last visit there I had a long meeting with Prime Minister Sharon and then later on the same day a long meeting with Chairman Arafat, of course they're very different and they're very much opposed to each other but both of them said to me as we walked out of the meeting in strikingly almost identical words, this must stop because life has become unbearable for our people. If anything it's become even more unbearable in the months since I had those conversations and I think eventually, and I hope it's very soon, people there are going to recognise that this conflict, grinding, demoralising, dehumanising, devastating to people on both sides, has to stop and they've got to learn to live side-by-side in negotiation and in peace.

DAVID FROST:
And in terms of the events of September the 11th, as you look at what has happened since then do you think it has changed the atmosphere in the Middle East and Northern Ireland towards terrorism?

GEORGE MITCHELL:
I think it has, Tony Blair said that just a few days after September 11th that the kaleidoscope has been shaken and we all now watch as the pieces come together in different ways. He was speaking of governments and politics in terms of the region, the Middle East and other parts of that region but in fact it applies all over the world, indeed it applies to us individually and to our societies and it certainly was the case in Northern Ireland. It'll take time, perspective and the expertise of historians to sort out the precise details but I think a number of things came together in a fortuitous way in Northern Ireland and the reaction to the events of September 11th was one of them.

DAVID FROST:
George Mitchell there.

END


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