[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 4, 1998]
[Pages 1528-1531]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Bertie 
Ahern of Ireland in Dublin
September 4, 1998

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman's Remarks

    Q. Mr. President, do you have any comments on Senator Lieberman's 
    The President. I've been briefed on them, and basically I agree with 
what he said. I've already said that I made a bad mistake, it was 
indefensible, and I'm sorry about it. So I have nothing else to say 
except that I can't disagree with anyone else who wants to be critical 
of what I have already acknowledged was indefensible.
    Q. Do you think the Senate is the right format for----
    The President. That's not for me to say. That's not for me to say. I 
don't--I've known Senator Lieberman a long time. We've worked together 
on a lot of things. And I'm not going to get into commenting on that, 
one way or the other. That's not--it wouldn't be an appropriate thing 
for me to do.
    Q. But do you think it's helpful for him to make that kind of----
    The President. It's not for me to say. But there's nothing that he 
or anyone else could say in a personally critical way that I--that I 
don't imagine that I would disagree with, since I have already said it 
myself, to myself. And I'm very sorry about it. There's nothing else I 
could say.
    Q. Mr. President, do you think an official censure by the Senate 
would be inappropriate?
    The President. I just don't want to comment on that. I shouldn't be 
commenting on that while I'm on this trip, and I don't think that--my 
understanding is that was not a decision that was made or advocated 
clearly yesterday.

[[Page 1529]]

So I don't want to get into that. If that's not an issue, I don't want 
to make it, one way or the other. I don't think that's appropriate right 

Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Q. Mr. President, it usually seems to take a visit from you to give 
the peace process a boost. Will we need to see you again?
    The President. Well, for the sake of the peace process, I hope not. 
For my own sake, I hope so. But I hope the next time I come it won't be 
in aid of the peace process, because I hope it will be institutionalized 
and off and going.
    I do think that a lot of progress has been made. I give the 
Taoiseach a lot of credit, Prime Minister Blair, and the party leaders. 
I think the statements in the last few days by Gerry Adams and Mr. 
Trimble's response make me quite hopeful about next week. And then, 
after that, we'll just have to see where we go from there.
    Q. Mr. President, do you believe that from what you've heard from 
political leaders yesterday that David Trimble is now ready to sit down 
with Gerry Adams in government in Northern Ireland?
    The President. Well, first of all, they talked about meeting, and I 
think they need--I expect that at some point there will be a meeting, 
and I think that's a good thing. And then, we'll have to take the next 
steps. I think that what you want is--what we all want is for the 
agreement to be fully implemented so that all parts of it--the 
decommissioning, the participation in government by everyone who 
qualifies by vote of the people--all parts of it will be fully 
implemented. And I think that eventually it will get there, and I hope 
it's sooner rather than later.
    Q. Mr. President, what were your views of Omagh yesterday? It was a 
very emotional day. You seemed to work the crowd so well; you spent a 
lot of time meeting those people there yesterday. What were your 
    The President. Well, first of all, like everyone in the world that 
knew about it, I was just overwhelmed by the dimension of the tragedy 
and the random, cruel nature of the violence. And my experience has 
been, dealing with the families who have suffered a similar fate, is 
that they know there's nothing you can do to bring their loved ones back 
or bring their limbs back or give them sight or whatever else the 
problem may be. But sometimes just listening to people's story and 
letting them say what they hope will happen next, in many cases 
yesterday letting them reaffirm their belief in the peace, sometimes 
that helps.
    And what I was hoping to do yesterday was to bring the support of 
the people of the United States as well as my own and Hillary's to the 
families there and just give them a chance to continue the healing 
    I must say I was very, very impressed with the people of the 
community, who turned out, on the street where the bomb had exploded, in 
large numbers to say hello to us and to encourage us. And I'm grateful 
for that. But it was an amazing experience talking to those families in 
the building there and just listening to them.
    Q. You were clearly moved by it.
    The President. Anyone would have been.
    Q. Mr. President, where do you rank the Northern Ireland peace 
process among the policy initiatives you've pursued in office?
    The President. Oh, I don't know about ranking. It was important to 
me. Once I realized that there was something the United States could do, 
which probably happened somewhere in late 1991, long before I was 
elected, I decided I would try. And I just hope it succeeds.
    I believe that--at the end of the cold war, I think the United 
States has a particular responsibility, that goes beyond my personal 
passion for the Irish question, to do two things. One is to do whatever 
we can, wherever we can, to try to minimize the impact of ethnic and 
religious and tribal and racial conflicts. And we're in this position of 
responsibility there because of where we find ourselves at the end of 
the cold war.
    In addition to that, I think we have a particular responsibility to 
try to organize the world against the new security threats of the 21st 
century, the terrorism and narcotraffickers, the potential for the 
spread of weapons of mass destruction. And I have tried to do that.
    I don't suspect that either of those jobs will be completely done in 
2001 when I leave office, but at least the world will be on the way to 
having a framework to deal with both the opportunities for peace and the 
challenges to security. And I think you have to see the Irish question 
in that context, apart from my personal feelings about it. Because if 
you, all of you--the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Taoiseach 
and the Irish party leaders--if you're able to make

[[Page 1530]]

this peace go, as I said in Armagh yesterday, then we can say to the 
places--to the Middle East, we can say in the Aegean, we can say in the 
Indian subcontinent, we can say in the tribal strife of Africa, ``Look 
at this thing that happened in Northern Ireland. There's the Troubles 
for 30 years, but there were conflicts for hundreds of years. This can 
be done.''
    And so the potential impact of resolving this could wash over many 
more people than just those that live on this island.

Military Action Against Terrorist Sites

    Q. Mr. President, how do you reconcile the peaceful strides you've 
made in the Northern process with your foreign policy and your reaction 
to the threat of Islamic militants and the airstrikes on Afghanistan and 
    The President. Well, I think you have to, first of all, look at what 
happened in the Middle East and here. In the Middle East and here, I 
have worked hard to get people to turn away from terror toward a peace 
process, not just the Irish parties that had once participated in 
violence, but in the Middle East it's the same. The PLO has moved away 
from violence towards the peace process.
    The problem with the bombings in our Embassies in Africa is that 
they were carried out by an operation which does not belong to a nation 
and does not have a claim or a grievance against the particular nation 
that it wants to resolve so that it can be part of a normal civic life. 
It is an organization without that kind of political agenda. Its agenda 
is basically to strike out against the United States, against the West, 
against the people in the Middle East it doesn't like. And it is funded 
entirely from private funds under the control of Usama bin Ladin, 
without the kind of objectives that we see that, even on the darkest 
days, the Irish parties that were violent had, the PLO had.
    So it's an entirely different thing. And I think it's quite 
important that people see it as different, because one of the things 
that we have to fight against is having the world's narcotraffickers tie 
up with these multinational or non-national global terrorist groups in a 
way that will provide a threat to every country in the world. It's just 
an entirely different situation.

Northern Ireland Peace Process

    Q. Taoiseach, how important was the President to the developments 
that took place earlier this week which seemed to have injected a new 
momentum into the peace process?
    Prime Minister Ahern. They were immensely important, because even if 
Omagh never happened and the terrible tragedy that it was, in early 
September we had to focus back, preparing for the next meeting of the 
Assembly, for heading on to preparations for the executive North-South 
Council and all of the other aspects of the agreement. And we needed to 
focus very clearly on those. And what the President's visit has done is, 
it has got the parties to, I think, move what might have taken weeks and 
months over a very short period, because they looked at the agenda that 
was set before us, and they've made the moves.
    Now, there are clearly more moves to be made. And I think what the 
President said in Armagh last night, we would totally agree with in the 
Irish Government, because I think he's laying down for us and for all of 
us that there is a path to follow. If we are sensible, if we're brave, 
and then we follow that path, the reward is peace and stability and 
confidence. If we don't, well, then the future is as gloomy as the past.
    And I just believe that this visit at this time, it has been 
immensely important. It's given confidence to us all, I think, to move 
on. It's given confidence, I think, to the Unionist Party and Sinn Fein 
to make moves that are brave and efficient to the process. And we're 
very grateful not only for this visit, not only for the last visit, but 
the fact that this President of the United States has given us an 
enormous amount of time, a huge amount of support, and an enormous 
amount of encouragement to move forward. And we're very grateful for 
    Q. How will history judge his role, President Clinton's role in the 
Northern Ireland peace process?
    Prime Minister Ahern. Well, I always say, President Carter and U.S. 
Presidents--and successive Presidents and administrations have taken an 
interest in affairs, and a supportive interest. But the facts are, never 
before have we had such intense and sustained contact from the United 
States President, and that in a period when we desperately need it to be 
able to move forward. I said, I think, in Washington last March that 
maybe it was the luck of the Irish, but we don't take it for granted, 
and we're very grateful for it.

[[Page 1531]]

Note: The exchange began at 11:12 a.m. in the Office of the Taoiseach. 
In his remarks, the President referred to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams; 
First Minister David Trimble of the Northern Ireland Assembly; Prime 
Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom; and Usama bin Ladin, who 
allegedly sponsored terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and 
Tanzania. A tape was not available for verification of the content of 
this exchange.