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Bush urges N. Ireland peace moves

Bush and Blair talk in the gardens of Hillsborough Castle Monday.
Bush and Blair talk in the gardens of Hillsborough Castle Monday.

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged Northern Ireland political leaders on Tuesday to adopt a British and Irish blueprint for peace "as their own."

"This is an historic moment and I would ask all the communities in Northern Ireland to seize this opportunity for peace," Bush told reporters ahead of a working luncheon with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Premier Bertie Ahern near Belfast.

Blair and Ahern are expected to propose initiatives on Thursday -- the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement -- to help move the peace process along.

The two-day meeting between Bush and Blair is focusing on rebuilding Iraq. (Full story)

But the British leader hopes Bush's visit will also help the Northern Ireland peace process. Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, traveled to Northern Ireland three times in an ongoing effort to bring the Protestant and Catholic communities together.

Bush said he was "honored" to be asked to come to Northern Ireland to meet the parties involved.

Among those Bush will see at Hillsborough Castle are Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

"I hope these leaders hear me when I say: achieve the (Good Friday) Agreement because it will have an effect beyond Northern Ireland," Bush said.

"The prime minister is right when he says that when the peace process is successful here it'll send a really important signal to other parts of the world.

"It'll confirm the fact that people who have a vision for peace can see that vision become a reality."

The Good Friday Agreement created a power-sharing government with delegates from unionist and republican communities making decisions on running Northern Ireland.

But the peace process has stalled in recent months amid rows over spying and paramilitary weapons.

The British-Irish plan will contain commitments to further implement the Good Friday Agreement, including scaling down the Army presence in Northern Ireland and devolving policing and justice powers.

London and Dublin hope their document will result in a historic declaration from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that it will abandon all paramilitary activity.

Bush likened Northern Ireland to the Middle East, saying: "We believe that peace (in the Middle East) is possible. Northern Ireland makes me even more firm in my belief that peace is possible. ... It's the same vision we need to have in the Middle East.

"I have talked at length to ... (Blair) about how hard he had to work to bring the (Northern Ireland) process this far," Bush said. "I am willing to expend the same amount of energy on the Middle East."

Blair welcomed Bush's assistance in efforts to urge the Northern Ireland parties "to take the final steps towards a lasting peace."

"It is also perhaps fitting that here in Northern Ireland a good part of our discussions focused on the Middle East," Blair said.

"Not too many years ago it would have been said that the peace process here was in far worse shape than the process out in the Middle East.

"Yet here we are for all the difficulties in Northern Ireland able to point back to real improvements in the security and the standards of living," Blair said.

"So for those who sometimes say that the process in the Middle East is hopeless we say we can look at Northern Ireland and take some hope from that."

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