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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
Bush to visit NI for talks
The leaders will hold talks at a venue near Belfast
The leaders will hold talks at a venue near Belfast
US President George Bush is to visit Northern Ireland next week to hold talks over the political process and the war in Iraq.

The White House confirmed on Friday that the American leader would be in the province to hold talks with UK prime minister Tony Blair.

The two leaders will also discuss the unrest in the Middle East, said a spokesman.

This will be President Bush's first visit to Northern Ireland.

Reports from the US said it would be a two-day visit.

It is understood President Bush will arrive in Northern Ireland on Monday.

It is reported that US Secretary of State Colin Powell will be travelling with President Bush.

The president's going to get a first-hand insight and update on the incredible progress being made on the Northern Ireland peace process as well as discuss other efforts in the world to bring peace and security to the Middle East
White House spokesman

The talks will be held near Belfast.

A Downing Street spokesman said the two leaders would join Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern for talks with the main pro-Agreement parties.

They will have meetings with the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein.

The Downing Street spokesman said: "It is an important week in the Northern Ireland peace process.

"It will be useful to get the US President's support for our efforts to encourage the leaders to the acts of completion the prime minister has outlined."

He added: "The president and the prime minister have discussed Northern Ireland on several occasions.

"It is an example of how peace can be taken forward in seemingly impossible situations. We want that spirit applied to the Middle East peace process."

'Political progress'

A White House spokesman said: "The president's going to get a first-hand insight and update on the incredible progress being made on the Northern Ireland peace process as well as discuss other efforts in the world to bring peace and security to the Middle East."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the issue of Iraq would dominate the talks session.

"The trip will focus on the operations in Iraq, they will talk about the status of the ongoing military operations, they will talk about the humanitarian relief efforts, they will talk about reconstruction, they will talk about the role of the United Nations, they will also talk about the peace process in Northern Ireland, and I think the subject of the Middle East could come up, as well," he said.

Democratic Unionist Party Leader Ian Paisley said the prime minister was "happy to use President Bush to facilitate further concessions to terrorists and pursue the Blair policy of terrorist appeasement".

I trust their deliberations will be fruitful and productive
David Trimble
Ulster Unionist leader

"It is evident that President Bush has no intention of meeting with, let alone listening to, the views of the representatives of the majority of unionists in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Bush is happy for our soldiers to be in Iraq in common cause with the United States, yet he refuses to meet their political representatives."

Britain's ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, Sir Ivor Roberts, said the visit gave the lie to suggestions the Bush administration's commitment to the Northern Ireland political process was less than under the previous US administration.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the visit was "a strong signal" of President Bush's support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

"Sinn Fein will be pleased to discuss the Irish peace process with both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and we will seek to build on the progress that has been made in our recent discussions with the British and Irish governments on the full implementation of the Agreement," he said.

Political meetings

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he welcomed news of the discussions involving the two state leaders.

"I trust their deliberations will be fruitful and productive," he said.

"For these two leaders to devote any time in their busy schedules to the current difficulties in Northern Ireland underlines their commitment to the restoration of democratic institutions without the threat of violence from paramilitaries who have yet to acknowledge that their time has past."

The Green Party in Northern Ireland called for demonstrations on Monday to protest against President Bush's visit over his stance on Iraq.

Meanwhile, a series of political meetings took place on Friday ahead of what could be the most important week for the Northern Ireland peace process in five years.
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern
Mr Blair and Mr Ahern will return again on Thursday

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern are due back in the province later next week to publish their blueprint for restoring devolution.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy met Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen on Friday morning to discuss the potential for political progress in the coming weeks.

Northern Ireland's devolved institutions were suspended on 14 October 2002 following a row over allegations of IRA activity, including alleged spying within the Northern Ireland Office.


WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Mark Devenport:
"The two leaders will also discuss the unrest in the Middle East"


BBC NI's Conor Macauley
reports from Belfast International Airport



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