Closer EU integration in US interest, says Clinton


Hillary Clinton speaks to DENIS STAUNTONabout the EU, the North and the Middle East

DEEPER EUROPEAN political integration, including the enhanced EU foreign policy role envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty, is in the United States’ national interest, according to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mrs Clinton said that, while treaty changes are strictly a matter for EU member states to decide, the Obama administration would welcome a more coherent foreign policy role.

“I think there would be advantages in having an interlocutor who represented decisions taken by the EU. It wouldn’t in any way eliminate the bilateral relations which the United States pursues with individual countries but on a number of matters, the EU being organised in that way could facilitate decisions,” she said.

“I believe [political integration is] in Europe’s interest and I believe that is in the United States’ interest because we want a strong Europe .

“We want a strong transatlantic alliance. So again, we don’t have any vote or voice in these internal European matters but the Obama administration welcomes actions that strengthen Europe and relations among European nations, a commitment on the part of Europe to be a full participant and leader in a lot of these global challenges.” Mrs Clinton played a prominent role in this week’s talks between US and Irish leaders, taking part in the Taoiseach’s meeting with President Barack Obama and holding separate meetings with Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde.

She insisted, however, that Washington’s interest in its relationship with Ireland went beyond affection and the goodwill felt by successive US administrations.

“We have a very strong economic relationship that we hope can weather this economic crisis and continue to create jobs and opportunities in both of our countries. There’s a synergy, in part because we speak the same language, we have a lot of the same values and shared interests we want to build on so we have a stronger partnership going forward,” she said.

“Secondly, we have a lot of shared responsibilities. The commitment that Ireland makes to global security with over 800 troops, I think they told me, being involved in peacekeeping missions, including Afghanistan, is a significant commitment and really sets a standard, an example for other nations.

“And similarly, on the development and humanitarian aid front, Ireland is a leader. That gives the United States not only a partner that we can count on to meet the problems and seize the opportunities that we face in the world today but it just further connects us going forward.”

Condemning “rejectionist efforts to turn the clock back” in the North, Mrs Clinton said the success of the peace process helped to make the case for reconciliation and negotiation in other conflicts. She was cautious, however, in drawing comparisons between Northern Ireland and the Middle East where former senator George Mitchell has recently taken up a peacemaking role “I believe that his analysis would point to certain legitimate comparisons. But there are obviously great differences in the make-up and the nature of the conflict.”

“But one thing that is in common is the United States government’s commitment to be engaged. That was something that my husband did when he was president with both Northern Ireland and the Middle East,” she said.

“Progress was made but there was no final resolution in a peace agreement in the Middle East in the way there was in the Good Friday Agreement. But the fact of American engagement, which we are once again committed to in the Obama administration, makes the difference.” Mrs Clinton restated the US position that Hamas must fulfil conditions set down by the Quartet made up of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia – renouncing violence, recognising Israel’s right to exist and abiding by previous agreements – before it can join peace talks.

“In order to be a participant in peace talks, you have to believe in peace and you have to be willing to sit at the table and recognise that there is another side and the other side has to be there,” she said.

“So the path is very clear. But just as it took an enormous amount of effort to get the parties to the table in Northern Ireland, it will take both effort and change and commitment on the part of Hamas to be recognised and included in any such process in the Middle East."