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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 15, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                          IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
                          The Northwest Portico

10:45 A.M. EST

Q Mr. President, do you feel that your meetings are helping with the peace process, and do you feel that it will be staying on track for its time frame, the way it's figured now for a May referendum?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm very impressed by what's been done, and very encouraged. And I can tell you just two things: one is, I intend to stay personally involved in this in however ways I can be helpful. I will do anything I can.

But the second thing is, it's time to get down to details now. There's a very ambitious timetable; it can be met. I think the people would like it to be met, the Irish people. And so the political leaders will have to get down to the details -- and the devil is always in the details. There are difficult, difficult decisions that have to be made, but that's what people who occupy positions of leadership are hired to do and the time to do it is now. But I will do everything I can to help. And the Taoseach and I have had a great meeting today and I'm encouraged by the reports that he's given.

Q Is there anything specific, Mr. President, that the Taoseach asked you to do?

THE PRESIDENT: Just that he asked me to stay involved and he said that anything I could do to encourage all the parties to be part of an evenhanded process -- and I believe George Mitchell is doing his best to be evenhanded -- was important. And then, of course, early next year we'll be getting into the details and then I expect we'll be talking in a more regular way. By the time he comes back here for St. Patrick's Day we'll all be up to our ears in it, I would imagine.

Q Mr. President, going to Bosnia, are you signaling an intention to keep U.S. forces there beyond deadline?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know I'm going to have several opportunities to talk to you over the next few days and I'll have a statement about that soon. I'm proud of what our people have done there, I'm proud of what the Irish have done there, all the people who are involved. And a great deal of progress has been made, a great deal more work needs to be done.

The main thing I'm doing is going to Bosnia to thank the American military personnel for being there and for spending their Christmas there and for the sacrifices they've made to bring peace to Bosnia, and to tell them why it's important. That's the main reason I'm going.

Q Do you see new flexibility from Iran in statements made in the past few days?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I was quite encouraged by Mr. Khatemi's statement. And it was welcome and I will say again I would like nothing better than to have a dialogue with Iran, as long as we can have an honest discussion of all the relevant issues. We remain concern about the sponsorship of terrorism, about the violent attacks on the peace process, about the development -- their acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. And we will continue to be concerned about those things. But I was quite encouraged by the President's statement and I think that the American people should be.

Q Taoseach, could I ask your impressions of your meeting with the President, how did it go?

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: Well, first of all, I'm delighted to be here and I'm very grateful that the President has afforded part of his horrendous schedule some time for us to be here. We had an excellent discussion, where we were able to go back over what has happened over the last number of months. I had an opportunity to brief the President on all of the moves since the peace process and the real talks started on the 24th of September, right up to what's happening in Belfast and the castle buildings today.

The most important thing for us is that the President has continued to be so involved and so committed, so personally involved. The President has at all times helped; during the summer when things were scrappy and he afforded me a number of phone calls, which I greatly appreciated; and, of course, some of his most key people are actively involved in trying to bring us all to a balanced, comprehensive settlement.

And this morning we had an opportunity of going through what are the factors of the talks, the three strands, and how we can see ourselves working into the springtime to try to get to a comprehensive settlement. And that he -- like the meeting that I had with Tony Blair the other day, the President is in full agreement and is urging me that we must now get into the detail, and that we have to try to put together the comprehensive settlement that the people will be allowed to vote on and that is balanced and for all sides. And that's precisely what we'll do. And, as the President has said, by St. Patrick's Day, hopefully I can report back some progress in that area.

Q Mr. President, what news on the puppy? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: He's here and we had a great weekend. More later. (Laughter.)

END 10:50 A.M. EST