US contribution to peace talks…

US Special Envoy Mitchel Reiss has been quiet of late, possibly thinking about his future options as a Colin Powell appointee in a Condoleezza Rice-run State Department. The Indo seems to think he will be staying as US Envoy.The Indo suggests that while Rice is likely to appoint a new head of policy planning to replace him soon, Reiss will keep his NI Envoy position.

Meanwhile, the Indo reports a Bush administration official saying: “Gerry Adams does not have a permanent visa to come here and fundraise.”

Is the White House suggesting that Sinn Fein representatives may have their visa applications revoked? Is the Bush administration considering sanctions on fundraising (as Westminster may do)? What shape will the annual St Patrick’s day celebrations in Washington take, and who will be on the invitation list?

With Reiss’s position as Envoy clarified, he may now feel able to comment on the current political situation.

Like his former boss, Colin Powell, Reiss is seen as a moderate, and his most recent peace process intervention that we know of was at late last year, in the talks that followed Leeds Castle.

Gerry Adams had requested his participation. Last March, Sinn Fein had taken out advertising in US newspapers condemning the PSNI, and after a meeting with Reiss a few days later, denied it was coming under pressure from the US administration to sign up to policing.

The adverts greatly annoyed Reiss, who was said to have had a “bruising encounter” with Sinn Fein in the wake of 9/11. The US administration believes policing is the key to genuine stability, and has been supportive of the way Patten has been implemented. There have been a few criticisms from the policing Oversight Commissioner, although he too called for a “big push” towards acceptance of the police by all communities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, number two on the US priority list, if statements and speeches are anything to go by, is integrated education. The previous Consul, Barbara Stephenson, went out of her way to promote mixed schooling.

Anyway, late last year, when deadlock threatened over the issue of photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning, Reiss suggested that the date of publication be delayed for a period.

However, the proposal was rejected by the IRA, as the talks finished without agreement on what was presented as the dealbreaking issue. Reiss refused to play the blame game.

The Americans see themselves as bridge builders and problem solvers, according to Mark Devenport. I get the impression that the parties appreciate the value of a view from outside, one with interests perhaps, but with goodwill. A little lateral thinking and imagination can sometimes get politicians over a hurdle, and I guess they don’t mind the occasional gentle prodding when a clear direction emerges in talks.

You might expect the DUP to be touchy about a foreign government poking its nose into our internal affairs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It was a mistake for Blair to prevent the DUP from meeting George Bush at Hillsborough, as the DUP might have paid attention to him.

He’s their kinda guy, and they believe 9/11 and the war on terrorism has at least made it more difficult for the IRA to return to violence. A DUP meeting with Bush back then would have been productive, I feel, and the DUP were annoyed enough to refuse to meet the then envoy, Richard Haass.

But with Reiss pushing his compromises on photos at Leeds, it would appear the differences were patched up long ago. Nevertheless, there was “regret” from the State Department that the DUP and Sinn Fein failed to reach agreement in December.