Bill Clinton was advised to snub Londonderry on his second visit to Northern Ireland in 1998 because it was perceived to be a ‘one-sidedly nationalist’ city at a time when unionist support for the Belfast Agreement was hard won.
According to previously restricted US documents, Washington’s man in London at the time of the agreement, Philip Lader, was opposed to a Londonderry visit.
Documents - released for the first time on April 18 - also show that some in the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger’s, office were impatient with political leaders at the time for what they saw as an ‘insatiable desire for praise.’
Another note strikes an incongruous chord from the diplomatic core of one of the world’s iconic republics. A proposed visit to Londonderry by the then First Lady, Hillary Clinton, was to include what a memo refers to as ‘“common people” events.’
The same note - dated April 14, 1998 - outlines how a visit to Londonderry was considered impolitic. It states: “To be decided once we see how UUP and Sinn Féin are doing with their parties in selling the agreement. President of the United States (POTUS) to call Bertie Ahern to discuss appropriateness; National Security Council (NSC) to discuss thinking with party leaders (consulting without giving them a veto).
“Embassy London and Belfast continue to oppose a Derry stop due to balance (one-sidedly nationalist at a time when we need to build unionist support) and availability of time.”
Elsewhere, in a later note, there’s a handwritten reference to David Trimble and John Hume’s joint receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
It states: “The insatiable desire of Northern Ireland politicians for praise and recognition. The Nobel Prize wasn’t enough?”
And in another handwritten note, Northern Ireland politicians’ repeated demands for access to the White House are also disparagingly referred to.
“I do not favour,” it states. “We can’t get into the practice of POTUS having to see NI Types every time they come to DC.”