[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 15, 1998]
[Page 765]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 765]]

Exchange With Reporters During Discussions With Prime Minister Tony 
Blair of the United Kingdom in Birmingham
May 15, 1998

Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Q. Prime Minister, have you been talking about the further--accord 
in Ireland?
    Prime Minister Blair. Obviously, we have discussed it, and I think 
that the reason why it's so important for people to understand in 
Northern Ireland that this is a way forward for the future is that it 
entrenches for the very first time the principle of consent in both the 
Constitution of the Republic of Ireland and in the agreements between 
all the parties. And I want to emphasize particularly that at the heart 
of this agreement is the belief that we only make progress if people 
give up violence for good.
    And we will make sure in the legislation that comes before our 
Parliament in order to give effect to this agreement that we make that 
commitment, very, very clearly expressed in that legislation, so that if 
people are supporting this agreement, they are supporting an end to 
violence once and for all.
    Q. Mr. President?
    President Clinton. Well, first let me say that, obviously, the 
impending vote is being watched very closely in America. Especially 
Irish-Americans, Protestant and Catholic alike, are passionately 
interested in what will happen. But we think it's clearly a decision for 
the Irish to make.
    And I would just say that, to me, as a friend from the outside, it 
appears to be the chance of a generation for peace. We will stand with 
those who stand for peace, but I want to make it equally clear that 
anyone who reverts to violence, from whatever side and whatever faction, 
will have no friends in America. We have supported this peace process. 
We applaud the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Ahern and all those who were involved in it, all the 
parties. And we intend to stand with the people who stood for peace. 
Those who do not, if there's any reversion of violence, as far as I'm 
concerned those people will have no friends in America.
    Q. Sir, why did you decide not to go to Northern Ireland or Ireland 
on this trip?
    President Clinton. Well, we consulted with the parties, but my 
instinct was, all along, that while I think we--that the people of 
Northern Ireland and the Republic know that the biggest Irish diaspora 
is in the United States, and they know that I personally care a lot 
about this. It is, after all, their future, their lives. They will have 
to live with the consequences of it.
    It's not like having Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister 
Ahern or Mr. Major going 
up there. Northern Ireland is a part of this nation. And so, no matter 
how friendly an outsider I am, I still am an outsider. I won't have to 
live with this. And my instinct was that unless there was an 
overwhelming sense that I should go, it would be better to send my 
messages from without the country until after the vote occurs, because 
it's their decision to make.
    But I just want every single person in Northern Ireland and in the 
Irish Republic to know that we will support the peace process and the 
people who do it. And anybody who returns to violence, we will not 
befriend, because this is the chance of our lifetimes, anyway, to do 
this. And I hope it will not be squandered.
    Thank you.

Group of Eight Summit

    Q. How was the meeting today?
    President Clinton. Very, very good, actually. We have a good leader. 

Note: The exchange began at approximately 6 p.m. at the International 
Convention Center. In his remarks, the President referred to Prime 
Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland; and former Prime Minister John Major 
of the United Kingdom.