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Tuesday, February 3, 1998 Published at 17:51 GMT

UK: Politics

UK leader praises Clinton over Ulster
image: [ Mr Blair had many positive words to say about the beleaguered US President ]
Mr Blair had many positive words to say about the beleaguered US President

Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised President Clinton for his support of UK policy on Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister, who is going to Washington on Wednesday for a three-day visit, also reaffirmed his personal support for the US President in the wake of the sex scandals threatening to engulf him last week.

[ image: President Clinton can rely on the support of Britain's leader]
President Clinton can rely on the support of Britain's leader
He also he praised the "canny" people who preferred to focus on "big picture" politics rather than claims about politicians' private lives.

Mr Blair's comments came at a briefing for London-based American journalists ahead of the trip to meet President Clinton this week.

The visit is designed to cement a transatlantic relationship unrivalled since the days of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher and ex-US President Ronald Reagan.

Mr Blair told journalists that he appreciated Washington's backing for the government's efforts to create a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

"I would pay tribute to the tremendous support I have had from the American President on Northern Ireland. He has been absolutely solid as a rock," he said.

The Prime Minister also used his briefing to describe his hopes for progress in the talks process - aimed at making it very difficult for anyone engaged in violence to achieve any sense of respectability.

He said that if the parties at the talks made choices about the way ahead and a blueprint was put to the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic in referendums, that point could be reached.

Mr Blair would not be drawn into discussions about sex scandals at the White House but he did express his support for President Clinton.

"I think the public in the end is more canny than sometimes the media gives them credit for and they believe that the President is right to focus on these big picture issues."

He said US voters no doubt heard Mr Clinton's State of the Union address last week and noted the strength of the economy and the President articulating their concerns on issues such as schools and crime.

"That is what people elect their politicians to do," he said.

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