FORMER US PRESIDENT Bill Clinton held private concerns over the nature of Gerry Adams’ relationship with the IRA, while in office, it has emerged.
In a 1999 phone conversation with then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton remarked that he didn’t know what the “real deal” was regarding the Sinn Féin leader’s links to paramilitaries.
I’ve been reading about it all through this, because my daughter just happens to be doing a paper on Adams.
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,” Clinton added.
Adams said today that he had no response to the comments and said Clinton never asked him if he was in the IRA.
The documents were released yesterday after a Freedom of Information request by the BBC, and contain more than 500 pages of phone transcripts dating from Blair’s election in 1997, until the end of Clinton’s second term as president, in 2000.
Many of their conversations focus on Iraq, the Kosovo War (and NATO bombings), and extensive discussions on Northern Ireland, especially in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement.
In a phone call on 8 May 1998, Clinton and Blair talk sternly about Adams, and the issue of decommissioning, with the president saying:
We’ve all taken our licks for Gerry, so if they want a role in the government, they have got to have some demonstration of good faith on this violence issue.
Clinton goes on to suggest to Blair the possibility of arranging immunity for former IRA militants, in order to ensure the location of the bodies of the Disappeared.
The day after the Omagh bombing, in August 1998, Clinton called Blair to commiserate, and shared his experiences in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, just days earlier.
He shared his fears about the evolving face of terrorism throughout the world, predicting “we’re going to increasingly have to deal with terrorists with no ties to any nation-state…”
…In the case of a lot of Middle East and African countries, we could be dealing with these people, like in those old James Bond movies with SPECTRE and Dr. No. We’re going to have a twenty-first century version of those.
Later, Clinton reveals he had feared that anti-Good Friday extremists would assassinate Gerry Adams and David Trimble after the dual referendums in May.
I’m really sorry, Tony. I’m so sorry this happened. You know, I was afraid this would happen before the vote. I was afraid they might try to kill Gerry or David.
Heavy redactions to the documents at times make it difficult to place every comment in context, but the two leaders repeatedly express their frustration at the slow pace of negotiations, particularly on decommissioning.
Clinton refers several times to having “tough” and “firm” conversations with Adams, and at one point they joke about playing the role of counsellors to leaders in the North and in the Middle East:
CLINTON: …There is a limit to how many times you can do this. I had to just get there and listen to them for hours and hours.
BLAIR: We end up being part negotiator, part therapist, and part leader.
CLINTON: Someday we should write a book together about these two things, about our role as shrinks.
The personal closeness of the two men is evident throughout the conversations.
Clinton called Blair to convey his sadness over the death of Princess Diana (which Blair likened to a “star falling.”)
Before a 1999 visit to the US, the president invited Blair to stay in the White House.
CLINTON: I won’t get in until 1am, and you may want to be in bed by then, but it’s your option. You can sleep in the same bed Churchill did.
BLAIR: I hope it’s appropriate.
CLINTON: As long as you don’t parade around naked before the bath. You’re too young and too trim.
BLAIR: I’m getting older in this bloody job.
Before the birth of Blair’s son Leo in 2000, the two world leaders joked about Clinton taking on the role of babysitter, after he finished his second term as president, later that year.
You can read the redacted transcripts in full, here.
Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell.