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Clinton confirms N.Ireland trip

Bill Clinton
The visit will be Clinton's third to Northern Ireland  

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Northern Ireland in December in an effort to overcome difficulties in the Irish peace process, the White House has announced.

Clinton has played a major role in Northern Ireland's journey toward an uneasy peace, giving support to British-Irish initiatives that led to the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

"Building on the progress that's been achieved in implementing the Good Friday accords, the president hopes that this visit will help to overcome difficulties on the path to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland," said White House spokesman Jake Siewert on Monday.

Siewert said Clinton would make the trip between December 12 and 14, but it was not clear which cities the president would visit.

Clinton's decision to go was in response to invitations from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and the two men who lead Northern Ireland's power-sharing government -- Protestant First Minister David Trimble and Roman Catholic Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon.

It will be his third stay in the province, having visited in 1995 and 1998.

Blair welcomed the announcement of Clinton's December visit.

"The prime minister looks forward to his visit. He has played an important role in the peace process and it is very welcome that he can visit before the end of his term," a spokesman for Blair told Reuters.

A possible third trip to Northern Ireland by Clinton was first mentioned in October. Clinton said he was interested in a trip on condition that the fledgling power-sharing government forged under terms of the Good Friday pact was still working.

Clinton at the time appealed to Northern Ireland's rival factions to stand by the 1998 peace agreement.

He admitted the peace deal was "straining under intense criticism."

In an article for the Belfast Telegraph daily newspaper, he wrote: "I hope to be able to visit Northern Ireland soon, and to confirm that the will of the people is being heeded."

He said the Good Friday agreement "is working, but it is straining under intense criticism."

The president insisted that the Good Friday accord underscored "respect for British sovereignty in Northern Ireland," and appealed for politicians not to give in to "the heat of the moment."

"It is human nature to take the good for granted and to focus on our frustrations. Giving in to those frustrations would be a tragic mistake, with terrible consequences," Clinton said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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The White House
UK Government
Northern Ireland Assembly
Irish Government

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