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Saturday, 20 November, 1999, 00:22 GMT
Tireless campaigner for peace
George Mitchell: Tributes to his diplomatic skills

President Clinton has warmly congratulated former US senator George Mitchell on his latest success in brokering a new way forward for the peace process in Northern Ireland. The BBC's Mark Devenport examines the reaction to Mr Mitchell's diplomacy back in his home country, and assesses the skills which equipped him for his tough job in Belfast.

George Mitchell was born and raised in Waterville in the north eastern US state of Maine, and there the plaudits for his perseverance in encouraging Northern Ireland's politicians to move towards agreement know no boundaries.

Mr Mitchell is a life long Democrat, whereas Senator Olympia Snowe is a Republican. But Senator Snowe won't let American partisanship get in the way in paying tribute to what she calls George Mitchell's "tireless efforts to secure peace". Maine, says Senator Snowe "is very proud of her native son".

Senator Snowe says that during his time in the US Congress, Mr Mitchell was known for his steady hand and his leadership in ushering through ground-breaking legislation. She believes his "momentous accomplishment" in successfully completing his review of the Good Friday Agreement is a tribute to his diplomatic skills.

Someone else who is delighted, but not surprised, is Harold Pachios, a partner of Mr Mitchell in a legal firm in Portland, Maine. Mr Pachios has known Mr Mitchell as a friend and colleague since the early 1960s.

He remembers the young George Mitchell as the most talented lawyer in Portland, successful with most of his cases because "he is extremely smart, listens very well and had a reputation as a problem solver". He believes all these attributes served Mr Mitchell well when he took on his most difficult assignment.

'Boundless depths of patience'

Sir Reg Empey was one of the lead negotiators on the Ulster Unionist side. He says the foremost quality which Mr Mitchell brought to his review was "boundless depths of patience".

In the light of his track record brokering difficult political deals on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sir Reg says both sides in Northern Ireland had respect for Mr Mitchell. Because of that he was able to create an atmosphere in which they were, slowly but surely, able to do business. The trust began to grow as the negotiators shared meals together alongside their discussions.

Harold Pachios points out that the long grind of talks at Stormont has cost his friend and colleague money, as he has not been able to work in his legal practice in Maine. More importantly, it has cost him time which he would have liked to have spent with his wife Heather and young son Andrew.

Mr Mitchell initially believed his review would take three or four weeks. But, as has been the case with his previous tasks in Northern Ireland, it dragged on longer than expected, to 11 weeks. Asked if this would be the last time the British and Irish governments would be able to call on Senator Mitchell's services, Mr Pachios replies: "I would take a bet on it!"

That does not mean, however, that Mr Mitchell will not be visiting Belfast in the future. He has already written about how he would like to be able to return to Stormont to show his son Andrew a parliament working in a society at peace.

Mr Pachios doesn't think Mr Mitchell will be chairing any more peace talks, but he imagines that he will go back fairly frequently with his family, maintaining his close ties to the country and the people.


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