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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 11:14 GMT
High hopes for Clinton visit
Seamus Mallon and David Trimble met President Clinton at the Whitehouse in September
President Clinton still has pivotal role in NI process
The US senator who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement has said he hopes President Clinton's visit will move the Northern Ireland peace process forward.

Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the all-party talks which were the basis for the April 1998 peace accord, said he had been discouraged about setbacks in the process at times, but that he believed the path to peace was irreversible.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, he said Mr Clinton was taking a very deep personal interest in the situation.

"No other American president has ever gone to Northern Ireland while in office and this will be President Clinton's third visit.

"I know that he will want to do what he can to encourage the political leaders and the people to move the process forward," he said.

Senator George Mitchell: Clinton will encourage people to move forward
Senator George Mitchell: Clinton will encourage people to move forward
"He recognises that the role of the United States there is a limited one. It is secondary and the prime responsibility belongs to the government and the people there.

"But to the extent that he can be helpful, I know that he very much wants to be and he is looking forward to his visit."

Mr Clinton's third visit is expected to be his most political, as he is coming to Northern Ireland at a time when the British and Irish governments are trying to put together a package to avert another political crisis in the province.

Earlier this week, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, said he hoped a resolution could be found to the issues that threaten to destabilise the process, before Mr Clinton arrives on 13 December.

But there are still major differences between the parties on the issues of paramilitary decommissioning, police reform and demilitarisation.

On Saturday, Northern Ireland First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble made an appeal on a US radio station to President Clinton to "exercise his influence with Irish republicans" on the need to start decommissioning weapons.

Speaking in south Armagh at a commemoration for four IRA men on Saturday night, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the UK Government had reneged on the programme for scaling down military fortifications in the province.

He reminded the government that the IRA had allowed some of its weapons dumps to be inspected by international inspectors, as a confidence-building measure to show that a process of putting the guns "verifiably beyond use" had started.

But that this was part of an overall package from the British and Irish governments on progressing implementation on all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement - including those on demilitarisation and police reform.

Meanwhile, Mr Mallon has added a further dimension to the wrangling over police reform, by revealing that Prime Minister Tony Blair told him this week that the government's Implementation Plan for the Police NI Act is being "revised" to make it more acceptable to nationalists.

Sinn Fein has rejected the Act as an unacceptable blueprint for a new police force, saying the changes do not go far enough. The SDLP has so far reserved judgement.

But further movement towards the nationalist position on issues including the badge or flag of the new force would anger unionists.

They are already unhappy about the Royal Ulster Constabulary title being dropped from the new police service in all but its title deeds.

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See also:

30 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton may get new peacemaker role
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Devolution's turbulent year
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
NI policing plan 'being revised'
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