Three heartbeats away from the Presidency

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LETTERS FROM LONDON

by Will PrattAs I write, the outcome of America’s presidential election has still to be decided. Even before the skirmishes in Florida aroused world wonderment, the election processes were being keenly followed in Britain, not surprising since the States is our closest ally and what happens there affects us very much. When the indecision in Florida became known, the election became headline news in our newspapers and on TV and radio.

To be honest, little is known here of George W. Bush or Al Gore. Had one of the candidates for high office been Senator George Mitchell, Britons would have been rooting for him. He is the charismatic senator who brought Northern Ireland to the brink of peace. A lawyer, federal judge and for 14 years senator for Maine, he was never without his smiling, courteous, patient manner. Such qualifications made him one of the few politicians in the world who had any hope of producing agreement among the feuding leaders of northern Ireland. Whenever I saw him being interviewed on television, he was never without that disarming smile, no matter how proactive the interviewer.

Just when George Mitchell decided to leave the senate, President Clinton appealed to him to take on Northern Ireland. The president told him that peace there would mean a great deal to him. Mitchell’s agreement plunged him into five years of constant travel across the Atlantic and round after round of calming bitter wrangling.

One has to know a little about the province’s history of disputes between Republicans and Nationalists to understand what an achievement it was when he persuaded them to accept what he called The Good Friday Agreement, some parts of which have still to be carried out.

Salvationists in Northern Ireland can be proud of the Christ-like standards they have upheld throughout all the troubles. A Goodwill Community Centre at the dangerous heart of the dividing line never closed its doors. When Belfast Citadel caught fire from adjacent torching, the comrades still held open-air witness, being the one organization allowed by the authorities still to march the streets.

Did I hear that President Clinton has asked Senator Mitchell to help resolve the Middle East conflict? I’m not surprised. You have some great people in the States.

Looking back on Senator Michell’s life, a British magazine claims that during the six years he spent as Senate majority leader he was ‘three heartbeats away from the Presidency’! That’s something to think about right now.

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