Press Briefing by George Mitchell, Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State on Economic Initiatives in Ireland
Aboard Air Force One
En Route to London, England
MR. MCCURRY: We are getting for you the transcript of the President's remarks as he departed for Marine One, so you'll get some context. But he obviously warmly welcomed the communique issued this evening by Prime Minister Bruton and Prime Minister Major.
A key feature of that communique was the agreement of the two governments to establish an international body to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue. And as you may know in the communique, they have invited Senator George Mitchell, former Senator Mitchell, former Majority Leader of the United States Senate, to chair that body and to participate along with two other individuals who will be named to that body.
In a rare special guest appearance here on Air Force One, Senator Mitchell is here to provide his answer to that invitation. I think as many of you know, the Senator has been serving as the Special Adviser to the President and the Secretary of State on Economic Initiatives in Ireland. And he's been playing an indispensable role as we continue to provide economic support to the reconstruction of Northern Ireland, the counties of the Northern Ireland. And the President has made it clear tonight, both publicly and privately, that he's enormously gratified with the selection of Senator Mitchell for this very important role.
Senator Mitchell has earned the respect of both governments very clearly from the communique issued tonight, but also from the parties that he's been dealing with the in course of his service as Special Adviser. And it is a privilege to have him here to speak to you tonight.
I think that you also know, Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff, who is here representing Secretary Christopher, who is of necessity staying in Washington to work on Bosnia and to testify before Congress. But Under Secretary Tarnoff has been a key participant a lot of the discussions within our government about the effort to both nurture the peace process and to reconstruction Northern Ireland as it heads for a brighter economic future.
Q: Is this a big concession on the part of the British, isn't it, to finally have negotiations even while there isn't a disarmament?
SENATOR MITCHELL: It's the fortunate culmination of many months of discussions involving the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and many other parties. And I believe that Prime Minister Major and Prime Minister Bruton deserve a great deal of credit for their courage and perseverance in helping to move the process of peace and reconciliation of Northern Ireland forward. I'm pleased to accept their invitation and look forward to this visit to consult with them and as many other parties as I can in the hopes that we can help them move the process forward.
Q: Explain to us what you understand your job to be. What is exactly your mission?
SENATOR MITCHELL: The communique issued by the two governments is explicit in saying that they will ask the international body to, and I am now quoting, "to identify and advise on a suitable and acceptable method for full and verifiable decommissioning and report whether there is a clear commitment on the part of those in possession of such arms to work constructively to achieve that. And so I -- we hope to act directly in accordance with the terms set forth in the communique.
Q: They're not bound at all by the report that's issued by the commission, are they?
SENATOR MITCHELL: That's correct. The communique makes clear that the report of the commission will be advisory and that they will consider it carefully.
Q: -- specifically then be talking to Sinn Fein to assess their willingness to come forward or any other group that might have to decommission weapons?
SENATOR MITCHELL: My hope and intention to consult as widely as possible all parties. Indeed, the communique itself recommends wide consultation, and we expect to do that.
Q: Does that mean even that there might be other international groups that you'd be talking to? I mean, that they've mentioned, like the Mideast, where people have given up arms and other places, or is it specifically you'll just be talking to the Irish -- or to the Northern Ireland groups?
SENATOR MITCHELL: I expect to be talking to those members of the two governments who have been involved in the discussions, so it won't be limited to persons in Northern Ireland and any other place or person from whom we can gain information or guidance that will be helpful. I don't at this point want to rule anything in or rule anything out. Our objective will be to do the best we can to be helpful.
Q: What's the timetable --
Q: By when do you intend to finish your report?
SENATOR MITCHELL: The communique has asked that we complete our report in January. And I hope that we'll be able to do that. The exact words were by mid-January 1996.
Q: With that date and the end of February date that's also in the communique, does that -- the fact that those dates are coming up so quickly indicate that -- is that a good sign that they would impose such early, early deadlines on themselves?
SENATOR MITCHELL: I think it's a sign of their desire to move the process forward as rapidly as possible under the circumstances, which exist.
Q: What's going to be the hardest part of this job you've been given?
SENATOR MITCHELL: It's impossible to know that yet. This is obviously the very first moment in which I've had a chance to read the communique, and I've not yet had a chance to talk personally with those persons who conducted the negotiations and wrote the communique. So I think it's a little premature.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me interject one thing -- the President has asked Senator Mitchell to participate in some of the bilateral discussions he'll have with both governments and others in the coming days. And I think that will be a good opportunity for the Senator also to see individually some of the key participants in the peace process.
SENATOR MITCHELL: That will be very helpful to me.
Q: Do you think you'll be able to solve the issue of decommissioning where both sides accept your recommendation?
SENATOR MITCHELL: We're going to do the very best we can to comply with the terms of the communique and to help these governments and the people involved move this peace process forward. I believe it to be an historic time and an historic opportunity. Many people have taken many courageous steps which they deserve credit. And if we can be helpful in a supportive role, then we should attempt to do so.
Q: How long has this idea been in the works? And why was it announced specifically right now?
SENATOR MITCHELL: That, of course, will have to be answered by the persons who made the announcement -- the governments involved, the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
Q: -- does this involve decommissioning by all sides? Does it involve decommissioning by all sides?
SENATOR MITCHELL: By its terms, the communique makes clear that it will involve all of the parties and participants. I don't have the exact words here, Helen, but it's very clear that -- it says here, "the removal from the political equation of arms silenced by the virtue of the welcome decisions taken last summer and autumn by those organisations that previously supported the use of arms for political purposes."
Q: Why you, Senator? Does this mean that American brokering of the peace? Why you? Why were you chosen specifically?
SENATOR MITCHELL: I think you would obviously have to ask the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. In the past 10 months, I've had the opportunity serving as the President's -- as Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State on Economic Initiatives in Ireland to meet and talk with and work with many of the participants. And I'm pleased that they've acquired the confidence to ask me to serve in this role.
Q: -- American brokering, though, of the peace in Ireland?
SENATOR MITCHELL: I think that they peace process and the reconciliation effort underway in Northern Ireland is a direct result of the courage and perseverance of Prime Minister Major, Prime Minister Bruton and his predecessor Prime Minister Reynolds and the people involved themselves. The American role is one of being helpful and supportive. President Clinton has played a very crucial and important role. But I believe that it's the parties themselves that deserve the credit and will, I think, be ultimately responsible for what I hope will be a successful result.
Q: What would you say the factor of difficulty is in arriving at a strategy for, or an agreement on decommissioning?
SENATOR MITCHELL: I expect it will be difficult. It has taken the governments themselves a lengthy period of time to reach agreement on this communique. But the opportunity for good, the opportunity to make a major step forward in the peace process in Northern Ireland is so large that I think it is a task that I and the other members of the body will undertake willingly and with enthusiasm.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. Let's make this the last question. One more.
Q: -- clarification. The issue of decommissioning then has to be worked out before they can go on to all-party talks, even with this, because they say they can -- they can move on to all-party talks in February.
SENATOR MITCHELL: I believe that the communique by its terms contemplates a two-track process.
Q: -- explain what that is exactly --
MR. MCCURRY: -- deal with some of that on background. Just one other note, as we took off the President presented National Security Adviser Tony Lake with a bottle of champagne. And I think for those who are aware and will become aware of the role that he's played in reaching tonight's announcement, people will understand that that's a very well-deserved tribute to someone who did a lot of extraordinary work on behalf of the agreement that the two governments have been able to reach tonight, both a facilitating role and also in a very constructive role as the parties began to understand what each other were saying, directly to each other.
Q: Did they break it open?
Q: -- on ice?
MR. MCCURRY: They got a bottle of champagne on ice, which --
MR. MCCURRY: A good American brand.
Let me just, on the record, before we go on background -- on the record, the United States played an important facilitating role in helping the two governments reach this agreement tonight. Very often in a difficult negotiation like this, the assistance of a third party, especially the United States, can be instrumental in helping both sides understand each other's positions more clear. One constructive role we played was to help listen to what both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom were saying; and then from time to time contribute ideas on how they might bridge the differences that existed between their two sides. We did that in a series of conversations that the President, the Vice President, the National Security Adviser and others at the NSC participated in. I don't want to overstate the role, because in any agreement like this, it's the two governments themselves that have to reach an agreement. They have to take into account the positions of all the other parties that are instrumental in the peace process.
Q: -- they proposed the two-track --
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said what I just said very carefully and very deliberately and on the record.
END 9:13 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by George Mitchell, Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State on Economic Initiatives in Ireland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270207