THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) __________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 8, 2000
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON PRESIDENT CLINTON'S BILATERAL WITH PRIME MINISTER BERTIE AHERN OF IRELAND
Waldorf-Astoria New York, New York
1:50 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On Ahern, they had a meeting that focused primarily on the ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Accords. They began talking a little bit about what has gone on here this week, the President's efforts on the Middle East peace process. But the discussion was primarily on the Good Friday Accords.
Ahern kind of gave the President a little bit of an update on how he thought the last couple of months have gone and the bottom line was, on the whole, really quite good. As you all know, the Executive is up and running, which is critical, and it's starting to actually make a difference in people's lives on the ground in Northern Ireland. People have local leaders and a local government that is actually doing their business for them and they're starting to see this as having a practical effect.
Tension between the two communities this summer, marching season, actually was less than anticipated, and what was particularly noteworthy, the Prime Minister thought, was the fact that when there were problems, the two communities have been able to resolve them between themselves, with less reliance on outside actors. He thought that was very positive. He said there have been some attempts at violence by extremist groups -- for example, extremists on the Republican side -- that had either failed or the people had been caught, so there really wasn't much there. And he noted that, as some of you probably know, there has been some Protestant-on-Protestant violence over the last few weeks, but as he put it, that really seemed to have much more to do with gangs going at each other over turf and over the drug trade than anything to do with the peace process.
And so, on the whole, his report card to the President on the peace process was very good. Then they talked about what are the remaining issues, how do we go forward. They talked about some of the things that are still under discussion; in particular, implementing the Patten Report on Police Reform, and the President told him that he very much looked forward to receiving the two leaders of the Executive, David Trimble, the Unionist leader, and Seamus Mallon. And they're coming to Washington to see the President next Wednesday.
This is something of an historic visit because it's the first time that the two elected leaders of the Northern Irish Executive are coming to the United States in their capacity as leaders of the Executive. And the President is really looking forward to hearing from them on how they see the implementation of the Accords going forward.
That was the bulk of the meeting.
Q Any plans for the President to travel over to see the parties?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No plans. Ahern said to the President, we'd love to have you come back. The President said, I'd love to go back. But can't plan anything now, there's no commitment to go, certainly nothing about dates or anything of that sort.
Q -- there would be more progress before he would go over?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there was no linkage to the issues, really a question of whether there was a way of scheduling something during the remaining months of the administration, or not -- something that we'll continue to look at, but there's just nothing there.
Q How long did this go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This went on for about 20-25 minutes.
Q Will they have another opportunity to see one another before Clinton leaves office if he doesn't go to Ireland? Is there any other venue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's nothing planned that I'm aware of. Don't hold me to that 100 percent; I can't think of anything. There are no international meetings that Ahern would be at that I can think of. I don't think -- St. Patrick's Day is not until next year --
Q Reschedule --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's true. So not that I'm aware of.
Q Remind us, what's the status of disarmament question there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The status of the disarmament is they took a big step forward in getting over the impasse they'd had on disarmament by the Sinn Fein and IRA agreeing to these sort of confidence-building measures -- that is, having internationallyrespected people come and look at arms depots to verify that indeed the arms were not being used. And we've had one inspection -- this was Ahtisaari from Finland, and the South African whose name escapes me. There's supposed to be another inspection coming up in the next month or so. And eventually, they have to get to the issue of putting the arms beyond use, as called for in the Good Friday Accords. But right now the decommissioning issue is on a good track.
Q You mentioned that it was a quiet summer, and you also said that they had been able to resolve some issues between themselves, without having outside parties involved. What kind of issues were those?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Primarily, this has to do with the marching season and the desire principally by the Unionist community to march in Catholic areas -- this has led to tension, violence in the past. And I think what was good this year is that they really managed to get agreement directly between themselves over whether certain marches would go forward, certain marches wouldn't go forward, what the hours were, and so forth. Real progress in just dealing with issues directly and not having to go pleading to someone else.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT