- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

Disarming the IRA

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook Thursday demanded that the Irish Republican Army disarm and disband and warned the outlawed paramilitary group that it risks destroying the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Cook, over breakfast with reporters at the British ambassador's residence, also denounced the democratically elected government of Austria because it contains a right-wing coalition partner, while congratulating Iran for having a "form of universal democracy."

Mr. Cook deflected a question about whether his Labor government would be comfortable with a Republican U.S. president, saying the presidential election is a matter for American voters.

However, he had a question for the reporters.

"Who's going to win the presidential election?" he asked. The reporters ducked that one.

On Northern Ireland, Mr. Cook said the British government might suspend the fledgling Northern Irish government if the IRA refuses to live up to a disarmament commitment made by its political wing, Sinn Fein, in the Good Friday accord of 1998. Sinn Fein became part of the government on the condition that the IRA disarm.

"We will only take that action if there is no indication the IRA will come up a clear and unequivocal … commitment to demonstrate their good faith," he said.

Mr. Cook said the IRA must convince the British government it is serious about disarming.

"A form of words won't work," he said.

"However, it doesn't mean they have to turn up at breakfast Friday morning with a load of Semtex and say, 'Here, we've started,' " he added, referring to a common brand of plastic explosive used by the Irish rebels.

Mr. Cook defended the decision of the European Union to isolate Austria because of a coalition that includes the right-wing Freedom Party of Joerg Haider.

He said Britain "vigorously deplores" Mr. Haider's statements, praising Nazi employment policies and members of the Waffen SS. Mr. Cook said his government "deeply regrets" the decision to include the Freedom Party in the Austrian coalition.

Mr. Cook also defended Britain's diplomatic contacts with Iran, however he denounced Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as "appalling" and a "danger to his neighbors" in the Gulf region.

He also said he is trying to explain to Washington what the EU means when it talks about creating a European defense force that would act in regional disputes if NATO declines to get involved.

Mr. Cook said the White House and State Department "fully understand what we are doing." Today, he hopes to discuss Europe's defense plans with members of the House and Senate foreign relations and defense committees.

New room for hearing

A forum on religious persecution in Sudan will be held in Room 253 of the Senate Russell Office Building on Feb. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Embassy Row reported the wrong room number in a column this week because of a typo in an announcement from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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