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Western Press Review: Ireland Gets A Chance At Peace

By Esther Pan

Prague, 13 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Papers around the world today are writing about the peace agreement reached Friday in the Northern Ireland conflict. After 30 years of fighting that has taken more than 3,200 lives, the peace deal brokered by U.S. Senator George Mitchell gives the embattled province a chance at a historic peace. Most commentators expressed cautious optimism, but warned that there are many potential barriers ahead on the road to peace.

IRISH TIMES: The courage to accept change

Mire Geohegan-Quinn writes from Dublin in The Irish Times: "It is a remarkable achievement. There is now in place an agreement that could bring a permanent peace to this island of ours that many people did not believe would be achieved...For the sake of future generations on this island, we must, as a people, have the courage to accept change, embrace it and make it work so that both traditions can at last live together in peace."

LONDON TIMES: There is hope the suffering may cease

The London Times writes: "After 30 years of tribulation, the suffering may cease...(The accord) will require careful nurturing and support if it is not to be trodden underfoot by militants. This Easter agreement will not bring peace within days. Indeed, it may be accompanied at first by an upsurge of violence from those groups on the fringes determined never to compromise. If, however, the republican leadership can show the courage to say the struggle has ended, and if, above all, this agreement is seen as a settlement and not a staging-post, then there is hope."

FINANCIAL TIMES: An opportunity that had to be seized

Phillip Stephens, writing in the Financial Times from London, called it "an epic, historic moment...This week the Cassandras have been confounded. The opportunity for peace and, one day, reconciliation has replaced the cruel certainty of sectarian violence...for all the wrangling, posturing and irritating hitches that punctuated the last days of negotiation, there was a pervasive sense in Belfast that this was an opportunity that had to be seized."

BOSTON GLOBE: The gun and bomb no longer have a place

The Boston Globe calls it "a historic turn for the people in Northern Ireland. The negotiations succeeded because of risk-taking and initiatives among politicians, members of a derided but essential occupation...If the settlement holds, it will mark the beginning of a shared political experience for all the people of Northern Ireland, one that will be fraught with sectarian division and compromise but where the gun and the bomb will no longer have a place."

SCOTSMAN: The beginning of the end of hate

The Scotsman from Ediburgh wrote on Saturday: "Easter, the time of hope and rebirth, is a fitting moment for Ireland, the north in particular, to begin 1998, defying every precedent of history, it may be we are witnessing the beginning of the end of a cycle of hatred." But the paper warned, "a 'peace process' is not peace, of course, and agreement is not the same thing as harmony. It remains to be seen if the two communities in Northern Ireland can be reconciled...realistically, we should remind ourselves, even amid the euphoria, that the killing will not be halted immediately."

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Complex agreement raises doubts

The San Francisco Chronicle comments: ''As a complex achievement, there are few rivals to the peace pact for Northern Ireland. It balances voting blocs in a new national assembly, requires ballot-box ratification and draws in the contentious factions. It includes safety measures for both Protestants and Catholics guaranteed by Britain, Ireland and the United States. Why, then, is it so automatic to doubt the plan before it gets going? For 30 years, Northern Ireland has been a war zone...This agreement may work for now, but the first car-bomb or ambush will test both sides...Now is the time for leaders to take credit, but they risk blame if the talks evaporate in tribal violence."

USA TODAY: Is Ireland out of rage?

USA Today says: "Elsewhere, complex efforts to resolve blood enmities are making slow progress. In the Mideast, Israel is grudgingly creeping toward accommodation with Palestine. In the Balkans, war criminals are starting to emerge from their brier patches. In each instance, the prospects for enduring peace hinge inevitably not just on leadership, but on a shift in the popular mood away from the need for revenge and gradually toward a need for security. The politics of violence works only while the atrocities make people angry. When they leave people heartsick, peace has a genuine chance. Is Ireland all out of rage? At the end of a holy weekend, in the face of unholy prospects, that surely must be the prayer."

MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Compromise requires sacrifice from both sides

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Like any good compromise, this agreement safeguards the legitimate interests of each side, while requiring each to make painful sacrifices...Failure to produce an agreement would likely have killed the 8-month-old cease-fire and ignited more widespread violence. The negotiators would have been humiliated, and the bomb throwers would have claimed vindication. Northern Ireland and those who care about it should be grateful that didn't happen."

NEW YORK POST: A leap into the unknown

The New York Post takes a darker view of the accord, calling it "a leap into the unknown. The real test will come in a few months, after (presumably) the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic ratify the agreement in separate referenda next month. What if the Nationalist and Unionist splinter groups that have kept up their campaigns of terror during the cease-fire continue shooting and bombing? What if new dissident factions split off from the major terrorist groups, and return to war? is early to hand out bouquets. Indeed, too much blood has been spilt for optimism of any sort."

European papers continue in the same vein, praising the agreement, but cautiously:

EL MUNDO: Ulsters lesson and choice

Spain's El Mundo wrote yesterday from Madrid, "We should welcome the end of a cruel conflict, one of the most hostile and difficult in the world...(but) the debate remains open. The most important thing now is to value the success of the negotiations by two governments and (several) absolutely disparate political forces, which in the end united to show the will to consent to peace. This is the lesson and the choice of Ulster."

IL MESSAGERO: Celebrations with caution, not champagne

From Rome, Italy's Il Messagero wrote yesterday: "In Belfast they celebrated the beginning of freedom. But not with champagne...with caution. They cannot quite believe that after 30 years of blood this Easter marks the beginning of a new mood of unity between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority. In Belfast they will believe in freedom when the wall between the Protestant and Catholic quarters comes down...ending a separation rooted in centuries of 'colonization' of Ireland by England."

BERLINER ZEITUNG: Civil war still a threat

Germany's Berliner Zeitung warns that risks still remain. In today's paper it says: "The compromise that is supposed to bring freedom still contains all the elements for a continuation of the civil war: Protestant terrorism could be directed against institutions that favor Northern Ireland's reunion with the Irish Republic. And extremists from the other side could do the same if they find the connection to London too close."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The light at the end of the tunnel

Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve sees the peace agreement in relations to changing trends in Ireland. It wrote on Saturday: "Twenty-nine years of war which dare not speak its name...reduced Ulster to the condition of being supported by Brussels, a situation particularly humiliating compared to the flourishing economy of the Irish Republic, the child prodigy of the European Union. Finally, on Good Friday, the light at the end of the tunnel...But will the historic accord in Belfast be able to overcome the psychological barrier at the root of the bloody conflict? Two factors might help: the process, already well advanced, of the Irish Republic's secularization (example: the referendum on divorce in 1996) and the pragmatism of Catholics in the North, less than half of whom truly believe they'll see an eventual reunification with the South."

Several papers credit the politicians and negotiators for making creating a deal out of potential collapsel.

LE SOIR: A complete success for Blair

In Belgium's Le Soir, Phillippe Le Corre wrote on Saturday: "In going himself to help his energetic Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, the prime minister lent an incomparable dynamism to the peace process. Sacrificing his family vacation in Spain, Tony Blair - like the other participants - deprived himself of sleep for 30 hours, directed one part of the negotiations, and held tete-a-tetes first with the Unionists, then the was a complete success for Mr. Blair."

GUARDIAN: Blairs finest day

In London's Guardian, John Mullin agreed, writing on Saturday: "The once-in-a-generation chance seemed to be slipping away Thursday night amid rumours of rekindled rancor. Except that this time, unbelievably, the politicians took that last, most difficult step...It was a remarkable coup, and Blair's finest day as prime minister."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Rare occasion when politicians are heroes

Phillip Stevens, writing in Saturday's Financial Times, called it "one of those rare occasions which casts politicians in the unfamiliar guise of heroes. John Hume...and David Trimble are obvious candidates. So too are Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. George Mitchell, the former US senator who chaired the talks with infinite patience, and Mo Mowlam, the indomitable Northern Ireland secretary, are others. As for Sinn Fein, there are still too many ifs and buts about the leaders motives, but history could yet be similarly generous to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness."

LIBERATION: US pressure made it possible

In contrast, Jacques Amalric, writing on Saturday in the French daily Liberation, gave credit to American efforts: "It is probable that the resolution of Tony Blair and his Irish colleague Bertie Ahern would not have been enough. But if passion took the place of reason in Dublin and London, only the active engagement and pressure of the United States made it possible for all the parties to accept an evolving formula."