Northern Ireland Leaders Feel Each Other's Pain

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Like any good marriage counselor, George Mitchell is trying to save the Northern Ireland peace process by getting each side to express the other's point of view. First, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble on Tuesday emphasized his commitment to an inclusive government for the territory, making the unprecedented allowance that the Protestant party "recognizes that it is legitimate for nationalists to pursue their political objective of a united Ireland by consent through exclusively peaceful and democratic means." Then, in a sequence of conciliatory statements carefully choreographed by Mitchell, Gerry Adams, president of the IRA-aligned Sinn Fein immediately echoed those sentiments, proclaiming itself committed to "exclusively peaceful and democratic means" and expressing a commitment to bring about the decommissioning of IRA weapons. The IRA itself followed suit Wednesday, announcing its "unequivocal commitment" to the Northern Ireland peace process and declaring that it would appoint an intermediary to negotiate decommissioning its weapons once a new political dispensation is in place.

Mitchell is hoping to break the deadlock by having each side address the primary concerns of the other — and commit to ending the violence that has plagued both communities. Monday he expressed confidence that a breakthrough was imminent, having spent months in a review process in which the leadership of both Ulster Unionists and the Sinn Fein apprised their counterparts of the difficulties of selling the deal to their respective supporters. Trimble, in particular, is facing a mutiny in his ranks, with even deputy leader John Taylor opposed to his strategy. Mitchell's patient mediation has helped the leaders on each side appreciate the other's difficulties and forged the consensus and cooperation that will be critical to steering the process through the storms ahead. And while that may not produce any dramatic photo opportunities or sound bites just yet, it may just yield a more durable peace.