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Bush Meets With N. Ireland Political Leaders - 2003-04-08


U.S. President George W. Bush is urging Northern Ireland's political leaders to bury their differences and seize the opportunity for peace. Mr. Bush spoke about the issue during his summit meeting outside Belfast with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Bush met with Mr. Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and senior party leaders of Northern Ireland on ways to break a political impasse in the long-troubled province.

Mr. Bush told a news conference that the Northern Ireland peace process faces a historic moment, and he called on all parties to seize what he described as "this opportunity for peace."

A reporter asked Mr. Bush how he felt about meeting Irish republican leaders linked to past terrorist campaigns that have killed British civilians. The president said those hatreds are now in the past.

"They have agreed to say that history is just that; history. And they look forward to a future in which young generations of Northern Irelanders can grow up in peace. That is what they have committed themselves to. And as a result of making that commitment, I am perfectly comfortable about urging them to see the process through," he said.

Among the local leaders seeing Mr. Bush are David Trimble, head of the Ulster Unionist party, which wants Britain to continue ruling Northern Ireland, and Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, which wants the province to join the Irish Republic. Sinn Fein is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Britain suspended self-rule in Northern Ireland last October and demanded that the IRA disband. Elections are planned for May 29 to restore local government.

British Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy indicated the IRA could announce its final disarmament by the end of this week.

On Thursday, prime ministers Blair and Ahern will present their blueprint for completing the, so-called, Good Friday peace agreement signed five years ago.