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The BBC's Denis Murray in Belfast
"The president appealed for support for peace"
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BBC NI political editor Stephen Grimason
"There is likely to be pressure on more than just Sinn Fein on arms - Tony Blair may also be pressed on policing"
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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 17:47 GMT
Clinton: No turning back for NI
President Clinton addressed a huge crowd at the Odyssey in Belfast
President Clinton addressed a huge crowd in Belfast
Outgoing US President Bill Clinton has told the people of Northern Ireland that there can be no turning back along the road to peace.

Mr Clinton was speaking at Belfast's new millennium Odyssey Arena in his keynote address during a one-day visit to the province.

He addressed a crowd of up to 7,000, including leading politicians in Northern Ireland, and RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

Appealing directly to the people of Northern Ireland he said: "I believe in the peace you are building and that there can be no turning back."

The president said that the US would continue to support the peace process and would "systematically root out terrorism and make sure the [Good Friday] peace agreement takes hold".

But he added: "The people of Northern Ireland must be clear and unequivocal in their support of peace. The enemies of peace don't need your approval, all they need is your apathy."

Bill Clinton: 'I believe in the peace you are building'
Bill Clinton: 'I believe in the peace you are building'
Mr Clinton earlier held talks with representatives from the three main pro-Good Friday Agreement parties in an attempt to encourage movement in the deadlocked peace process.

The stalemate is over several issues, including unionist demands for a start to paramilitary decommissioning and republicans' insistence on further demilitarisation and further reforms on policing.

Mr Clinton said for the "visions of the Good Friday Agreement to be realised, all sides must be fully engaged".

Addressing the concerns of both unionists and nationalists, he said The Patten report on policing reform must be implemented, and that all of the parties must support the new force.

There must be normalisation of the security situation and all arms must be put beyond use to "reduce fear and mistrust," he added.

"I think we can do this. I urge the parties, the two governments and the communities to continue to work at it in the coming days and weeks and we will do all we can to help," he said.

"You can only go forward together. You can not be lifted up by putting your neighbour down.

He added: "In the end what really matters is not what the US does, but what you do, and whether you decide to give your children, not your yesterdays, but their own tomorrows."

'Benefits of peace'

Earlier, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair outlined the economic, political and security benefits that have been achieved through the peace process.

Mr Blair also paid tribute to the president's "lasting contribution" to the peace process.

He praised Mr Clinton's "commitment, intelligence, encouragement and the Clinton magic which has taken us forward at key moments".

Mr Blair also re-iterated that the Good Friday Agreement was still the "only way forward" because of the principles on which it is based.

Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon also praised Mr Clinton's role in the political process.

Mr Trimble said that for the first time in the province's history, public policy was being set down by local people.

But he said making the agreement work had been "tough".

"Because it accurately reflects the complex and sometimes divergent interests of our society, there will inevitably be moments of stress and disagreement," he said.

"But the agreement protects everyone's interests. I am confident that support for the vision we set out in 1998 remains strong."

Senator Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton gets a warm welcome at the Odyssey
However, repeating his position on paramilitary arms he said: "There cannot therefore be a moral vacuum at the heart of the peace process. There must be real peace. Our uniquely inclusive arrangements contain no ambiguity on these principles.

"Justification lies in there being a transition from a violent past to a peaceful, democratic future. That is why I stand firm on the need for decommissioning."

'Act of courage'

Mr Mallon told the president that he had made his "own deeply personal act of courage and belief" in the province.

He said: "With your help we made our settlement - our ultimate act of friendship. It is called The Good Friday Agreement. The people of Ireland, north and south endorsed that settlement - and their message remains clear.

"You saw it in Dublin. You heard it in Dundalk. You can almost touch it here in Belfast. It is that peace will triumph. The beacon which you lit will not go out."

Seamus Mallon: Praised Bill Clinton's role
Seamus Mallon: Praised Bill Clinton's role
However, he said there were still risks to the process with the "corrosive violence and the threat of violence" which still persisted.

"Instead of building our new shining city on the hill we limp along in uncertainty - in a world of blame allocation - and broken commitments.

"We cannot go on like this. It is time to stop and think; to take stock- to measure our actions and our inaction - against the imperatives of peace and the hopes of our people."

Before travelling to the Odyssey Arena, Mr Clinton met widows of RUC men killed in the Troubles and relatives of murdered solicitors Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane.

On Tuesday morning, the president held private meetings at Stormont with members of the pro-agreement parties.

Mr Blair, former US senator George Mitchell, the former all-party talks chairman and Northern Ireland peace process review chairman, were also involved in the talks.

The British Government has played down the prospect of a breakthrough in the peace process during Mr Clinton's third and final visit to Britain and Ireland before his presidency ends.

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See also:

13 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton's final push for peace
13 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Hardline unionists 'excluded' by Clinton
13 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Women know 'there's no going back'
12 Dec 00 | Europe
Clinton begins final Irish visit
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