The American chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks says he hopes President Clinton will visit the region to build support for the historic compromise.
George Mitchell heralded Clinton's role in brokering the peace pact for Northern Ireland last week, saying he "deserves a lot of credit" for its success. Mitchell, a former Senate Democratic leader appointed by Clinton as envoy three years ago, planned to brief the president Monday afternoon."The agreement is a fair one. It allows both communities to live together in peace and reconciliation and build a better society," Mitchell said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
On Sunday, Mitchell stressed that while a compromise has been forged, more work is needed to ensure ultimate success of the deal to end three decades of violence between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority.
"This agreement really doesn't finalize peace. It creates the opportunity for peace and reconciliation," Mitchell said on ABC's "This Week." "It's a good first step, but there's still a long way to go."
Mitchell said he hopes Clinton will travel to the area as it prepares for May 22 voter referendums on the agreement. The president visited both Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast, and Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, in 1995. Clinton will be in the region in mid-May for an economic summit in England.
"I hope the president will visit. He's enormously popular in Ireland. People there recognize that he played a central role in this process," Mitchell said today. "I think a visit by him will be helpful."
Mitchell also observed that Clinton is "the only American president ever to have visited Northern Ireland while in office (and) the first to make it a high priority for American policy."
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said a Northern Ireland trip is under consideration.
Clinton, who spent the weekend at Camp David, Md., took more congratulatory telephone calls on Sunday from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was at the peace table, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "They were both basically to express some gratitude for the president's help," Lockhart said of the calls.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a confidant of Gerry Adams, head of the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein party, said Clinton's engagement could make or break the deal in the upcoming referendums in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
"Sinn Fein is fearful of being left alone - when the euphoria of the peace process is over, and we go back to Washington, the British go back to London - that they would still be there under the gun of the Unionists" who favor keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, King said on "Fox News Sunday."