[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 15, 1997]
[Pages 1766-1767]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Exchange With Reporters Following Discussions With Prime Minister Bertie 
Ahern of Ireland
December 15, 1997

Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Q. Mr. President, do you feel that your meetings are helping with 
the peace process, and do you feel that it will be staying on track for 
its timeframe, the way it's figured now for a May referendum?
    The President. Well, I'm very impressed by what's been done and very 
encouraged. And I can tell you just two things: One is, I intend to stay 
personally involved in this in however ways I can be helpful. I will do 
anything I can. But the second thing is, it's time to get down to 
details now. There's a very ambitious timetable. It can be met. I think 
the people would like it to be met, the Irish people. And so the 
political leaders will have to get down to the details, and the devil is 
always in the details. There are difficult, difficult decisions that 
have to be made, but that's what people who occupy positions of 
leadership are hired to do, and the time to do it is now. And I will do 
everything I can to help. And the Taoiseach and I have had a great 
meeting today, and I'm encouraged by the reports that he's given.
    Q. Is there anything specific, Mr. President, that the Taoiseach 
asked you to do?
    The President. Just that he asked me to stay involved, and he said 
that anything I could do to encourage all the parties to be part of an 
evenhanded process--and I believe George Mitchell is doing his best to 
be evenhanded--was important. And then, of course, early next year we'll 
be getting into the details, and then I expect we'll be talking in a 
more regular way. By the time he comes back here for St. Patrick's Day, 
we'll all be up to our ears in it, I would imagine.


    Q. Mr. President, going to Bosnia, are you signaling an intention to 
keep U.S. forces there beyond deadline?
    The President. Well, you know I'm going to have several 
opportunities to talk to you over the next few days, and I'll have a 
statement about that soon. I'm proud of what our people have done there; 
I'm proud of what the Irish have done there, all the people who are 
involved. And a great deal of progress has been made. A great deal more 
work needs to be done.
    The main thing I'm doing is going to Bosnia to thank the American 
military personnel for being there and for spending their Christmas 
there and for the sacrifices they've made to bring peace to Bosnia, and 
to tell them why it's important. That's the main reason I'm going.

[[Page 1767]]


    Q. Do you see new flexibility from Iran in statements made in the 
past few days?
    The President. Well, I was quite encouraged by Mr. Khatami's 
statement, and it was welcome. And I will say again, I would like 
nothing better than to have a dialog with Iran, as long as we can have 
an honest discussion of all the relevant issues. We remain concerned 
about the sponsorship of terrorism, about the violent attacks on the 
peace process, about the development--their acquisition of weapons of 
mass destruction. And we will continue to be concerned about those 
things. But I was quite encouraged by the President's statement, and I 
think that the American people should be.

Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Q. Taoiseach, could I ask your impressions of your meeting with the 
President? How did it go?
    Prime Minister Ahern. Well, first of all, I'm delighted to be here, 
and I'm very grateful that the President has afforded part of his 
horrendous schedule some time for us to be here. We had an excellent 
discussion, where we were able to go back over what has happened over 
the last number of months, and I had an opportunity to brief the 
President on all of the moves since the peace process and the real talks 
started on the 24th of September, right up to what's happening in 
Belfast and the castle buildings today.
    The most important thing for us is that the President has continued 
to be so involved and so committed, so personally involved. The 
President has at all times helped, during the summer when things were 
scrappy, and he afforded me a number of phone calls, which I greatly 
appreciated, and of course, some of his most key people are actively 
involved in trying to bring us all to a balanced, comprehensive 
    And this morning we had an opportunity of going through what are the 
factors of the talks, the three strands, and how we can see ourselves 
working into the springtime to try to get to a comprehensive settlement. 
And that he liked the meeting that I had with Tony Blair the other day; 
the President is in full agreement and is urging me that we must now get 
into the detail and that we have to try to put together the 
comprehensive settlement that the people will be allowed to vote on and 
that is balanced and for all sides. And that's precisely what we'll do. 
And as the President has said, by St. Patrick's Day, hopefully I can 
report back some progress in that area.

President's New Dog

    Q. Mr. President, what news on the puppy? [Laughter]
    The President. He's here, and we had a great weekend. More later. 

Note: The exchange began at 10:45 a.m. at the Northwest Portico at the 
White House. In their remarks, the President and the Prime Minister 
referred to George J. Mitchell, Special Assistant to the President for 
Northern Ireland; President Mohammad Khatami of Iran; and Prime Minister 
Tony Blair of the United Kingdom.