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Optimism for N. Ireland peace process

"There has been quite a lot of progress made and I think we will continue to make progress," Adams told CNN  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A day after his first meeting with President Bush, the leader of Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein party said Saturday he came away assured the United States remains committed to the Good Friday Accords, and said he sees more progress being made in the now-stalled negotiations.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, head of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, said Bush promised to keep strengthening Washington's role in the province when the two met Friday at the White House. Adams also met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom he found "very well motivated toward the peace process."

There had been concern among many Irish politicians the new administration would not view Northern Ireland's peace process with the same importance as former President Clinton, who took a lead role.

On the uniquely Irish holiday of Saint Patrick's Day, Adams reflected on the status of the ongoing peace process, still stalled on the issue of disarmament. He said the IRA has made great progress by complying with ceasefires and decommissioning inspections. "I think that we achieved an awful lot when we brought about cessations, and when we brought the IRA to the point that it's now at," he said.

"If they (IRA) put their weapons completely and verifiably beyond use, then we'll all be delighted," Trimble told CNN  

"I think it would be folly -- folly to try and force the IRA to do something which the British, in 30 years of war, could not achieve. This is a voluntary process."

Adams said he supports the idea of a police service for the province, but only a reformed one which represents all citizens.

"We need a genuine new beginning to policing which can bring about sustainable policing, which allows the people I represent to be proud and to be approving of a new police service, and to be actually a part of it," he said.

He blamed the British government for the current impasse, saying it has traded off on too many issues, and made too many promises. "That's why we're in the mess we're in," he said.

Adams was one of a group of Northern Ireland leaders invited to the White House Friday to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, a group that included Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble.

Also present were hardliners such as Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party, who has opposed the Good Friday agreement.

But Adams said the tone of the peace process is slowly improving.

"There are problems," he said. "But it's interesting that, despite all of that, while there isn't the degree of bonding necessary to get rid of all the difficulties, I think there's huge progress made.

"None of us should for one moment underestimate the progress that has been made in the last 10 years," he continued. "We've a long way to go, but we've come a long way."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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