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Published:December 1st, 2006 11:15 EST

United States Welcomes Progress in Northern Ireland

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The United States welcomes recent progress by the British and Irish governments and local political factions on sharing power in Northern Ireland.

“The United States fully supports the agreed way forward for Northern Ireland:  a power-sharing government by the end of March next year, based on support for the rule of law and policing,” according to a White House press release issued December 1.

Specifically, the White House praised efforts made in recent weeks to implement the St. Andrews Agreement, a series of steps outlined in late June by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern that are intended to end years of political deadlock and restore Northern Ireland’s government. The U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, also attended the talks that resulted in the St. Andrews Agreement. (See related article.)

The agreement’s “twin pillars are power-sharing on a fair and equitable basis, and support for policing and the rule of law across the whole community,” according to the office of the British prime minister.

The agreement set November 24 as a deadline by which to reach a power-sharing agreement based on the Good Friday Accord, a 1998 pact that calls for Protestants to share political power with the minority Catholics, and gives the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. (See related article.)

In accordance with legislation passed by the British Parliament November 22, the Northern Ireland Transitional Assembly met for the first time on November 24. It is scheduled to meet until January 30, 2007, when it will be dissolved pending assembly elections on March 7, 2007.

The Northern Ireland Assembly and its executive in the Stormont area of Belfast were created by the Good Friday Accord but suspended in October 2002 over disagreements about weapons recommissioning and concerns about alleged spying activities of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Since then, Northern Ireland has been ruled directly by the U.K government in London.

The St. Andrew’s Agreement’s timetable calls for full restoration of the government of Northern Ireland by March 26, 2007.

"No move forward in Northern Ireland is easy, we've learned that over 10 years,” Blair said November 24. "It's not because the people, or indeed, the leaders in Northern Ireland want it to be so, but because each step towards a different and better future is taken alongside the memory of a wretched and divisive past."

The full text of the president’s statement is available on the White House Web site.