US President leaves the Taoiseach standing

 

Airforce One touched down at Dublin Airport at 8.24 a.m. yesterday - and then kept the Taoiseach standing on the tarmac for a further 36 minutes before President Clinton alighted.

The fleet, which consisted of Air Force One, Air Force Two, another aircraft carrying members of congress and senators and a back-up aircraft, arrived landed inside a tight security cordon which had been placed around the airport since midnight on Monday.

The cordon was enforced by 400 members of the Garda and airport police and by five United States Black Hawk and three Chinook helicopters.

A further two United States Marines' helicopters were on hand to ferry the presidential party from the airport.

The Garda helicopter hovered overhead.

The number of United States secret service men at the airport was not disclosed.

All aircraft movements at the airport were halted as Airforce One landed. The VIP welcoming party, which consisted of the Taoiseach Mr Ahern and his partner, Ms Celia Larkin, the Tanaiste, Ms Harney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen and his wife, Mary, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms Liz O'Donnell, and her husband, Michael, as well as others who had been waiting in the north terminal's executive suite, made their way out onto the airport tarmac.

Lighted table lamps and wood panelling were just visible through the windows of Airforce One, giving some indication of the comfort inside as the assembled dignitaries waited outside. And waited.

Just as unhappy memories of Boris Yeltsin at Shannon began to be revived, President Clinton appeared with the First Lady, Senator Hillary Clinton, and their daughter Chelsea. It was exactly 9 a.m.

The presidential party was greeted by the US ambassador to Ireland, Mr Michael Sullivan, who ascended the steps and returned to present the Clintons to the Taoiseach and other members of the welcoming party.

Mr Ahern shook the President's hand warmly, grasping him by the arm and went on to kiss both the First Lady and Chelsea Clinton on both cheeks.

Once the greetings were over Mr Ahern and Mr Clinton walked to the President's waiting helicopter, followed by the first family.

The welcoming session and transfer to the presidential helicopter from Airforce One took four minutes and 45 seconds.

The President's helicopter then took off for the US ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park.

It was accompanied by the Chinooks.

Planes at the airport were delayed for up to 50 minutes during the arrival and departure of the presidential party.