Bid Launched To Save Belfast Accord
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Cautioning that he had no ``magic wand,″ the American architect of last year’s Northern Ireland peace accord launched a diplomatic mission Monday to salvage the unraveling agreement.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who met delegations from Northern Ireland’s four major parties, said the province’s rival British Protestant and Irish Catholic political leaders ``must seize this opportunity″ or condemn their land to perpetual instability.
Mitchell oversaw 22 months of often agonizing negotiations that produced the Good Friday accord of 1998. At its heart, the agreement called for the speedy establishment of a four-party Cabinet composed equally of Protestants and Catholics.
But the main Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, has refused to accept members of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein as government colleagues until the Irish Republican Army agrees to disarm. The accord specified disarmament should be completed by next May, but the IRA has refused to start.
Mitchell said he hoped to sell a compromise formula within weeks that would allow the Cabinet to be formed and the IRA _ as well as other outlawed groups with too little support to factor in the Cabinet’s make-up _ to start destroying its tons of hidden weaponry.
Mitchell emphasized he had no ``magic wand that will wave away these problems″ and that the real power rested with those who would form the 12-member Cabinet: the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, the moderate Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, and the hard-line Protestants of the Democratic Unionists.
``Each of them sought public office and the power that comes with it. With that power comes responsibility,″ Mitchell said. ``At this time and place, that means having the courage and wisdom to find a way to overcome the obstacles to implementation of the agreement.″
The Democratic Unionists, entitled to two Cabinet posts like Sinn Fein, totally reject the accord. The party’s leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, met Mitchell but said afterward he would shun Mitchell’s efforts ``to give the kiss of life to this wretched and dirty deal.″
An opinion poll published Monday in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper suggested that majorities of Protestants and Catholics alike would support a compromise whereby the Ulster Unionists accepted Sinn Fein as government colleagues on the same day the IRA destroyed its first cache of weapons.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who would lead the government, said he supported the concept of ``jumping together.″
But his senior negotiator, Reg Empey, said the Ulster Unionists doubted the IRA would disarm. He cited the group’s suspected links with an arms-smuggling plot uncovered by the FBI six weeks ago in Florida.
``What signal do you think that sends us about their sincerity?″ Empey said.
Mitchell plans to meet seven minor Northern Irish parties Tuesday and discuss his assessment Wednesday with the British and Irish governments, which jointly sought his intervention.