Clinton Relaxed by Irish Affection
By Peter Baker
DUBLIN, Sept. 4 Now this is President Clinton's kind of town. Everywhere he went today, he was hailed as a peacemaker. A local paper, using the Irish word for "hundred," declared in a giant banner headline, "Cead Million Thanks Bill." And any talk of "that woman" was dismissed on a radio talk show this afternoon as a ridiculous "witch hunt."
While the crowds were not as massive or exuberant as Clinton's visit in 1995, they offered nothing but affection at a time when the president has been under attack back home. To people here, the president's success in helping to forge peace after three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland was a singular and historic achievement.
"Let me just say to all of you, it's great to be back in Dublin," Clinton told a reception of political, business and labor leaders at the Royal College of Surgeons. "Even though there is a little rain in the air today, it's always bright and sunny for me here." He said his 1995 visit "was one of the great days of my presidency and, indeed, one of the great days of my life."
Clinton spent the day in the Irish capital after a hectic tour of Northern Ireland on Thursday celebrating the Good Friday peace accord he helped craft last spring and pushing the parties to take the next steps in enacting it.
He also focused attention on Ireland's emerging role in the technology industry.
During a tour of a Gateway computers facility, Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern "signed" a digital communique using computer smart cards to encourage the growth of multinational technology companies by keeping taxes and regulatory burdens low.
The president clearly was buoyed by the enthusiastic reception, light-heartedly joking about how he and other American politicians "come here and pander to you and tell you we love Ireland because there is so much Irish blood running in our veins."
He thanked the audience waving American and Irish flags for applauding his Northern Ireland negotiator, former senator George J. Mitchell. "You have no idea how much grief he gave me for giving him this job," Clinton said.
His chipper demeanor even extended to visiting the media compartment of Air Force One during the short flight this evening from Dublin to Adare, in western Ireland, despite being questioned by reporters about the Monica S. Lewinsky situation earlier in the day. Clinton made a surprise appearance to give his spokesman, Joe Lockhart, an alarm clock, since the incoming press secretary overslept in Moscow and missed the departure of the president's plane. Clinton talked eagerly about his date to play at the famed Ballybunion Golf Club on Saturday before flying home to Washington.
The only sour note from his hosts came over his recent retaliation against terrorists blamed for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Many Irish have been critical of the U.S. airstrikes against sites in Afghanistan and Sudan, and Ahern had been under pressure to raise the issue with Clinton.
U.S. officials said Ahern broached the subject delicately and only behind closed doors. Irish reporters, however, asked Clinton how he reconciled the airstrikes with his work for peace in Northern Ireland.
The president responded that it was a "just entirely different situation" from Palestinian or Irish terrorist campaigns because the embassy attacks "were carried out by an operation which does not belong to a nation and does not have a claim or a grievance against the particular nation that it wants to resolve so that it can be part of a normal civic life. It is an organization without that kind of political agenda."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company