updated 8/26/2004 10:35:42 PM ET 2004-08-27T02:35:42

Former President Clinton, who encouraged the 1998 peace accord for Northern Ireland, said during a visit there Thursday that he expects the pact's key goal - a joint Catholic-Protestant administration - to be revived.

The British and Irish governments plan a new round of negotiations starting Wednesday involving the two key adversaries in any new power-sharing coalition: the Democratic Unionists, the major British Protestant party, and Sinn Fein, the major Irish Catholic party.

"Mostly you get the feeling that they are willing to work out an accommodation," Clinton said in Belfast. "They are serious political parties, so they want to exercise authority."

In a sign of the influence Clinton still wields in the British territory, all four of Northern Ireland's major parties sent their top leaders to meet him separately. His wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, also took part but didn't speak to Belfast media.

Later at Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Londonderry, Hillary Clinton received an honorary degree from the University of Ulster. She described the arguments that caused Northern Ireland's previous power-sharing administration to collapse in October 2002 as "tediously stubborn."

The four-party coalition, which included the IRA-linked Sinn Fein, suffered repeated breakdowns over the Irish Republican Army's refusal to disarm as the 1998 accord envisioned. The administration collapsed after police accused Sinn Fein officials of helping run an IRA intelligence-gathering operation on potential targets.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said after meeting Bill Clinton that he expected Protestants to quit demanding the IRA's total disarmament as a condition for forming a new administration.

Adams noted that next week marks the 10th anniversary of the IRA's first major cease-fire. The IRA abandoned that truce but restored it in 1997, paving the way for Sinn Fein's entry to wider negotiations that produced the peace deal.

Protestant leaders "have to have realistic objectives. They can't set the bar at heaven's height," said Adams, who called it "disgraceful" that IRA peace commitments to date hadn't been sufficient.

Clinton, who played a lead role in drawing Sinn Fein in from decades of political isolation, appeared to agree. When asked whether he thought the IRA would fully disarm and disband as Protestant leaders demand, he said he didn't know but took the IRA's adherence to its 1997 cease-fire as compelling.

"The fact is that we've been without a (power-sharing) government for a year and a half now, and nothing too bad has happened," Clinton said. "People want to go forward."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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