Irish leaders look to Bush role
WASHINGTON -- Irish political leaders -- keen to determine the role the new U.S. Government will play in the province -- are to meet President Bush at a St Patrick's Day lunch.
First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon will meet George W. Bush at a lunch given by the speaker of the U.S. senate, Denny Hastert.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and the UK's Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, will both attend the St Patrick's celebration as well as a full-scale White House reception on Friday.
The Irish political leaders, from both sides of the border, are expected to discuss how the Bush administration will be involved in the peace process.
Trimble and Mallon met Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday and said they believed he would be a "powerful ally" in the search for peace.
Both leaders said Powell had told them the Bush administration was on course to ban the Real IRA -- an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army -- from fundraising in the United States.
UK authorities have blamed the Real IRA for a series of recent attacks in London including a bomb blast at the BBC and a mortar attack against the headquarters of the security services.
Trimble said: "It is a very important signal that can be sent. It is something that can be done to show the paramilitaries that there is no way back to the terrorism of the past.
"That process is under way and procedures have to be undergone in accordance with U.S. law."
There had been concern that the Bush administration was less interested in Northern Ireland than his predecessor, Bill Clinton, with responsibility being moved from the White House's National Security Committee to the State Department.
Trimble and Mallon said they were pleased by the level of knowledge and interest shown by Powell.
"I think the important thing is that we know we have got a very strong person, a very well informed person and a person who is used to dealing with intractable problems," said Mallon.
Trimble added: "It is encouraging to see that the State Department is adopting a higher profile in relation to Northern Ireland than was the case under the previous administration.
"This is a clear indication of the sense of optimism in Washington that we, as a society, are moving away steadily from conflict towards a more settled future."
Thursday's brief meeting with Bush will come at the annual Speaker's Lunch in Washington.
Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, is also due to attend the White House reception, the first time he has taken part in the U.S. political world's St Patrick's Day celebrations.
Other Northern Ireland politicians are also in Washington for the St Patrick's Day celebrations, including Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Adams will meet Senator Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, after a meeting between her and Mallon.
Trimble met Clinton on Wednesday and was due to meet a series of senior politicians interested in Ireland, including Edward Kennedy, on Thursday.
Both Trimble and Mallon will be guests of honour at the Irish American Fund's annual grand dinner, which officials are emphasising is an opportunity to lobby for inward investment in the province as well as to seek support for the peace process.
The Bush meeting comes as pressure grows on the IRA to begin decommissioning and following a statement by the group saying it had met General John de Chastelaine's decommissioning body.
Both Northern Ireland leaders said they would wait for a full report from de Chastelaine before commenting further on the IRA's statement.
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