State Papers

Bill Clinton was 'more forthcoming' to nationalists than British wanted

President Bill Clinton's election in 1992 caused some concerns in the NIO. File picture by Ron Edmonds, Associated Press
Dr Éamon Phoenix

US President Bill Clinton was "more forthcoming" to nationalists than the Northern Ireland Office wanted, declassified files show.

Mr Clinton's election in 1992 caused some concern to Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew and the NIO.

An official told Sir Patrick in October 1992 that the president "has been more forthcoming to the Irish-American nationalist constituency than we would have ideally wished".

He warned it "would be prudent to anticipate that we will face at least some difficulty with a Clinton administration".

Mr Clinton had openly said he would appoint a peace envoy to Northern Ireland and backed the MacBride principles which set out a code of conduct for US companies doing business in Northern Ireland.

The NIO official reported that Sir Robin Renwick, the British Ambassador in Washington, had impressed on President Clinton’s foreign policy adviser Nancy Soderberg the likely political effect in Britain "if Clinton made reference to wanton abuses by the security forces without setting it in the context of the terrorist campaigns of the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries".

The British embassy in Washington had made clear that "NI was part of the UK", the note read, and solutions to its problems could not be imposed from outside.

In January 1993, Sir Robin urged the Clinton administration "not to pursue the idea of a peace envoy".

In the same month, the head of the NIO Sir John Chilcot, expressed concerns that President Clinton's proposed envoy "might be replaced by the appointment of a high-profile US ambassador in Dublin with some kind of remit to engage in North-South issues".

In response to Chilcot’s memo, Sir Patrick wrote that he did not feel the British government could object to a "high-powered ambassador in Dublin" having a legitimate interest in a peace process involving Dublin, Belfast and London.

In 1995, Senator George Mitchell was appointed as an economic envoy to Ireland and later chaired the multi-party talks which resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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