- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

A question of arms

The Northern Irish peace process is entering a crucial stage as authorities wait for the outlawed Irish Republican Army to begin turning in its weapons.

Peter Mandelson, on his first Washington visit as Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups must completely disarm by May, the deadline set for the “decommissioning” of weapons under last year’s Good Friday peace accord.

One Protestant paramilitary group already has turned over weapons, but the most heavily armed group, the Catholic-dominated IRA, has just begun to hold talks about decommissioning. The IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, agreed to the May deadline in order to gain seats on the newly created Northern Irish government.

“Everyone is bound to it, to do it soon and do it verifiably,” Mr. Mandelson told reporters yesterday at the British Embassy.

“If there’s difficulty on either side, the thing will come tumbling down,” he said of the accord.

“If decommissioning doesn’t take place, a political crisis will be sparked, and we will have to step in,” he said, referring to the British government reasserting control if the accord fails.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who brokered the accord, saved it from collapse last month. He persuaded the leading political party, the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, to accept Sinn Fein members into the government after the IRA agreed to begin disarmament talks.

“We owe a colossal debt of gratitude to George Mitchell,” Mr. Mandelson said.

He also thanked President Clinton, who named Mr. Mitchell as his envoy to the talks.

“His commitment and will is as strong as ever,” he said of Mr. Clinton. He has “not spared an ounce of energy” to help solve the Northern Ireland dispute.

Mr. Mandelson, who met White House officials and members of Congress yesterday, will travel to New York this week to talk with business leaders. He is now pursuing U.S. investment in Northern Ireland.

The most important achievement so far is the establishment of the Northern Irish Assembly, Mr. Mandelson said. London has ruled the province since the 1970s when local government broke down under sectarian violence.

“I am proud to be the first [Northern Ireland] secretary in a quarter of a century to come to the United States and say there is once again self-government in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Prattle in Seattle

Australian Ambassador Andrew Peacock arrived in Washington three years ago as gossip columnists breathlessly reported about his romance with actress Shirley MacLaine.

He returned home last week after one last visit to a U.S. city, Seattle.

Mr. Peacock was among the diplomats caught by the protests in the streets during the World Trade Organization summit. He watched from his hotel as mobs ransacked parts of downtown Seattle and police responded with tear gas.

He and his delegation joked about the “prattle in Seattle” and “what a gas it was” to visit the normally sedate city.

Mr. Peacock reviewed his years in Washington in an interview in the latest edition of the Australian Embassy’s newsletter.

“It’s a very challenging position,” he said of being ambassador here. “It occupies many facets of diplomacy, representing Australia in the single most important nation in the world.”

The newsletter also quoted Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, paying tribute to Mr. Peacock at a meeting last month of the Australian-U.S. Ministerial in Washington.

“Andrew Peacock has done a simply outstanding job,” Mr. Downer said. “We have never had an ambassador who has had such status, such access, such a range of contacts as Ambassador Peacock has had.”

Congress also praised Mr. Peacock’s “diplomatic skills.”

“Australia and the United States were able to move side by side in the peacekeeping efforts in East Timor, thanks to the enviable diplomatic skills of Ambassador Peacock,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has appointed Michael Thawley, one of his senior advisers, to replace Mr. Peacock. Mr. Thawley has served in the Australian Embassy in Moscow and was also a top adviser for former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

c To contact Embassy Row, call 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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