US President Bill Clinton: “We’ve all taken our licks for Gerry”.

The BBC’s freedom of information specialist, Martin Rosenbaum, has been reading through transcripts of calls and meetings between US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, between 1997 and 2000, which were released following a BBC freedom of information request to the Clinton Presidential Library.

As he notes,

[The transcripts] contain substantial redactions, especially of Mr Blair’s remarks…

From the BBC report

Much of their discussion was about the Northern Ireland peace process, in which President Clinton played a significant part. The president frequently promised the prime minister that he would say and do whatever Mr Blair wanted him to.

The pair were clearly often worried about the delays in the IRA decommissioning its weapons, and sometimes frustrated by their dealings with the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. At one point the president remarked that “We’ve all taken our licks for Gerry”.

President Clinton also asked Mr Blair: “What’s the date that Gerry does the actual decommissioning? When does the IRA actually have to turn some guns over?” and at another time: “Do you think the IRA has decided they are never going to decommission?”

And talking of Mr Adams he said: “I don’t know what the real deal is between him and the IRA. It’s hard to put pressure on him when you don’t know what’s going on. It’s just bizarre.” [added emphasis]

It’s very noticeable from the transcripts that they tended to talk of “Gerry”, and also “Bertie” for the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern, whereas the Northern Ireland Unionist leaders were generally referred to as “Trimble” and “Paisley”.

There was sympathy for some of David Trimble’s political difficulties. The president referred to “all those crazies in his party” and asked Mr Blair: “Do you think there is anything we can do to Trimble to stroke him?”

Other sources confirm how ‘bizarre’ Gerry Adams’ position would have been regarded.

[Mitchell Reiss in 2008]: The consensus of the U.S. and Irish governments was that Adams was in control of the movement and had been since the Good Friday Agreement, when two small breakaway groups formed separate dissident movements. Indeed, the Good Friday Agreement itself could be seen as a betrayal of the IRA’s founding credo, yet Adams still managed to sell the deal to the vast majority of his followers. But most clarifying of all is Adams’s own admission, on BBC Radio earlier this year, that invoking the threat of a possible split was “just a necessary part of the conflict resolution process.” In other words, it was ploy and bluff.

Of course, the bizarreness continues…

The full collection of redacted transcripts is available here.  And there are some interesting quotes in one of the early conversations between Clinton and Blair.

SUBJECT: Restricted Meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair (U)

PARTICIPANTS: The President William Crowe, Ambassador to the UK Samuel R. Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Mary Ann Peters, Director for European Affairs, National Security Council (Notetaker) Anthony Blair, Prime Minister Sir John Kerr, Ambassador to the U.S. John Holmes, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister

DATE, TIME AND PLACE: May 29, 1997, 12:00-12:30 p.m. No. 10 Downing Street, London

Prime Minister Blair: Should we work through our cards? (U)

The President: If you see me with all the cards they give me, you know it is going to be a long meeting because I have not done my homework. If I do it, I reduce it to this one card. (U)

With regard to Northern Ireland, ,I would like to tell you that when it comes time that you think it would be helpful for us to say something about a cease-fire or decommissioning, let me know. We may have to wait for the Irish election. I have some pull and can call in chits; just let me know. [added emphasis]

Prime Minister Blair: [Redacted]

The President: I will think about the parade problem. The conflict reminds me of the Middle East. Do you have a resolution in mind?

Prime Minister Blair: [Redacted]

The President: One problem is that the people are farther along than the leaders. For people like Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley, the conflict is their whole life. [added emphasis]

Ambassador Crowe: At Drumcree, however, all those peace-loving people went indoors and shut their blinds. (U)

The President: Those were the same people in the streets cheering us — they need leadership.

Prime Minister Blair: [Redacted]

The President: Some of my rich yuppie friends cancelled trips to Belfast to play golf.

Ambassador Crowe: The President has been strongly supportive of investment in Northern Ireland.

The President: You need a place for the politicians to go to be relevant. They have to have a life and an identity other than their ability to stop the process. [Redacted] You’ve got it right with a guarantee of some connection to Ire:and. I have listened to them talk and I think that if there were no political leaders, we could get the people to agree.

Mr. Holmes: [Redacted]

The President: Sinn Fein needs to be on board with the substance of the resolution, whatever the details of the relationship to Ireland. What is the role for the DUP and Paisley? If we leave the extremes out, they can undermine the solution. I was struck by that when I met Paisley. I didn’t get a word in edgewise for 20 minutes, but I didn’t care. [added emphasis]

Mr. Holmes: [Redacted]

The President: You mean if you give them a meaningful devolved government?

Mr. Berger: We are maintaining contact with the unionists — I called Trimble recently.

The President: He is impressive.

Ambassador Crowe: But not at Drumcree. And the SDLP needs Sinn Fein in the talks so they cannot criticize the compromises Hume makes. [added emphasis]

The President: You know where we are. If there is anything I can do, let me know at the right time.

Mr. Berger: Mo Mowlam was over last week and we had a great meeting.

The President: She is good, great on TV. Her happy face inspires confidence. She seems solid and not full of herself; you don’t need another person over there posturing like a peacock.

Prime Minister Blair: I will tell her that.

–End of Conversation–

As we know, the focus of the governments on “the extremes” increased in subsequent years.

And, in relation to President Clinton’s “pull” and calling in “chits”, it wasn’t until there was a change in the US administration, and in the US President’s special envoy, that, in the aftermath of the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney in 2005, effective pressure was brought to bear on Adams et al and official Provisional IRA decommissioning was achieved and policing endorsed by Sinn Féin.