- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

‘Thank you,’ Mr. Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was overcome by the historic moment when he had tea with the Rev. Ian Paisley, the firebrand Protestant leader of Northern Ireland, and Martin McGuinness, a former top Catholic rebel of the Irish Republican Army, after they were formally sworn in as the new political leaders of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“I have to tell you it was quite unnerving, to be absolutely candid,” Mr. Blair said at a reception at the British Embassy in Washington last week.

Mr. Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionist Party, is first minister of Northern Ireland, and Mr. McGuiness, now with the IRA political front Sinn Fein, is deputy minister. They were the bitterest of enemies for decades but were thrown together after elections in March that forced their parties to choose between forming a coalition government or forcing the collapse of the assembly by refusing to cooperate.

After weeks of political horse-trading and pressure from Mr. Blair’s government, they chose to work together.

At the embassy reception, Mr. Blair cited the Northern Irish swearing-in ceremonies earlier this month as an example to the world of reconciliation between once-deadly foes, who now have the chance to ensure the prosperity of the British province torn for decades between the Protestant majority that sought to remain part of Britain and the Catholic minority that fought for union with the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Blair ended his last visit to Washington as Britain’s prime minister by inviting U.S. political and civic leaders to the embassy to thank them for years of support for peace in Northern Ireland. President Clinton helped secure the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, and the Bush administration provided diplomatic support when the peace process suffered setbacks.

“The support of our American friends to get the process over its many ups and downs … played a major role,” he said. “It would never have happened without your help. You’ve been great friends to my country.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted Mr. Blair’s support for U.S. policies, although she did not specifically mention Iraq. Mr. Blair faced so much criticism in Britain for his support of the war in Iraq that he is leaving office next month before the end of his third term.

“It is for us to thank you for your extraordinary courage, perseverance and patience,” Miss Rice said. “When great democracies work together, they can achieve what would seem impossible.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, praised Mr. Blair, saying, “We all owe Tony Blair and Northern Ireland owes Tony Blair an enormous ‘thank you.’

“He convinced Northern Ireland that all can grow by putting away the bombs and the bullets.”

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• George Gray-Molina of the U.N. Development Program in Bolivia, who addresses the Inter-American Dialogue.

Tomorrow

• Sohn Hak-kyu, a presidential candidate in South Korea and former governor of Gyeonggi Province.

• Vice Prime Minister Wu Yi of China, who attends the second round of the China-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.

• Mohammed Abdiker, chief of mission of the Zimbabwe bureau of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). He speaks at the IOM headquarters in Washington.

Wednesday

• Vice President Eduardo Stein of Guatemala. He addresses a breakfast meeting hosted by Ambassador Jose Guillermo Castillo of Guatemala.

• Thursday

• President Haris Silajdzic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who addresses the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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