- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

A prominent Northern Ireland politician stepped into the U.S. presidential campaign yesterday, chastising Sen. John Kerry for his position on the region while praising President Bush for his efforts with the peace process.

“In terms of delivering and achieving, we have found the Bush White House to be more effective [than the Democrats],” said David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, speaking at the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has criticized Mr. Bush in a statement directed toward the Irish-American vote, for an “absence of presidential involvement in efforts to further the peace process.” The senator from Massachusetts said U.S. involvement should reflect the approach taken by President Clinton.

Mr. Trimble disagreed.

“I would like to gently say to Mr. Kerry, I don’t see it that way. One has to draw a distinction between appearance and reality. When it came actually to aiding the political process, the record [under Mr. Clinton] was not so clear,” said Mr. Trimble, whose Protestant party has worked closely with Catholics in the peace process.

Mr. Trimble dismissed the Clinton-era approach as grandstanding.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, said, “Bush has been remarkably effective.” Emphasizing that the approach was bipartisan, Mr. Smith said there has been a “seamless transition from Clinton.”

The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 was hailed by many as historic. However, attacks by paramilitary groups, such as the Real IRA, continue to destabilize the region.

Mr. Trimble contends that political objectives can be met only after the violence ends.

“The paramilitary groups must operate exclusively democratically and peacefully,” he said. They must decommission their weapons and “devote themselves to peace.”

In a rebuke to Mr. Kerry, Mr. Trimble said, “Paramilitary activity and violence cannot be an afterthought.”

The Northern Ireland assembly formed by the Good Friday Agreement was suspended by the British government in October 2002, and political parties since have failed to work together. Mr. Trimble walked out of talks last week to revise the agreement, refusing to participate with Sinn Fein, a political party tied to the Irish Republican Army.

Mr. Trimble said yesterday that he took offense to Mr. Kerry’s assertion that “the guns are silent.”

People have been killed every year since 1998, Mr. Trimble said. “There ought to be consequences,” and a tough position against violence in Ireland needs to be taken, he said. Comparing the violence in Ireland to the terrorism of al Qaeda, he said the United States “must treat it the same way as you would terrorism elsewhere.”

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