Clinton urges Irish to finish peace deal

The Baltimore Sun

DUNDALK, Ireland — With a song and a plea for peace, President Clinton touched down in this border town Tuesday night for a last political hurrah on the southern side of this ancestral island.

Speaking in a main square festooned with Christmas lights and framed by American and Irish flags, Clinton urged thousands of chilled spectators, "Stand up for peace, today, tomorrow and for the rest of your lives."

For Clinton, the trip to Dundalk, a town once blighted economically and psychologically by the terrorist troubles that inflamed nearby Northern Ireland, proved to be a high point as his final presidential foreign tour began in Ireland, Northern Ireland and England.

"As I prepare to leave my office, a large part of my heart will be in Ireland," Clinton said, before grasping his wife, Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, and daughter Chelsea and joining in with the crowd to sing "Danny Boy."

Trying to cement the 1998 Northern Ireland peace accord that he helped to achieve, Clinton is using his valedictory visit to gently nudge one-time foes to put in place key elements of an overall agreement, while also basking in public acclaim as a peacemaker.

On an island where old grievances sometimes never die, Clinton reminded the audience that the "past is history and not destiny."

"In the end, you cannot win by making your neighbor lose," he told the waiting crowd and those watching on television.

Todayc, Clinton is due to meet with members of Northern Ireland’s local assembly and to give a speech at Belfast’s new hockey arena, before flying to England, where he will meet Queen Elizabeth II.

Northern Ireland’s leaders are struggling to implement key ingredients of the 1998 peace accord. The peace process is stalled as guerrilla groups refuse to give up their weapons. Local leaders hope Clinton’s third trip to Northern Ireland lays the groundwork to break the stalemate.

The president certainly supplied the right mood music during a Dublin lunch at the Guinness brewery.

"When I started my involvement with the Irish peace process, to put it charitably, half the political experts in my country thought I had lost my mind," he said. "And some of the all-night sessions I had, making phone calls back and forth over here through the whole night, after about the third time I did that … I thought I had lost my mind."

But he continued, "I believe that America has in some tiny way repaid this nation and its people for the massive gifts that your people have given us over so many years, going back to our beginnings."

After stopping to shop for wool goods and mix with Dublin locals at a pub, Clinton made his way toward Belfast, stopping en route at Dundalk.

For Dundalk, Clinton’s visit was especially emotive and politically intriguing.

For years, it was fertile ground for the Irish Republican Army, with rebel fighters seeking refuge in the pubs, homes and nearby countryside, renowned for its lush landscape and starkly beautiful beaches.

But after the 1998 Omagh bombing left 29 dead, the town made a dramatic U-turn. Thousands turned out to condemn the attack in which the Real IRA claimed responsibility.

"You stared violence in the face and said ‘No more,’ " Clinton said Tuesday.

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