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Northern Ireland Leaders To Visit White House Together

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, who put aside years of bitterness and Northern Ireland bloodshed to form a historic power-sharing administration, will be welcomed to the White House on Dec. 7 by President Bush.

Paisley, a Protestant evangelist, and McGuinness, the Catholic veteran commander of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, were at odds for decades. Yet they have been running Northern Ireland's cabinet together since May, with Paisley as first minister and McGuinness as his administration's deputy leader.

The visit will be their first to the United States together since taking office.

``The president looks forward to congratulating the two leaders on overcoming years of violent conflict, and for taking the historic path toward a peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of Northern Ireland,'' said White House press secretary Dana Perino in announcing the visit on Wednesday.

Paisley's conversion to compromise became possible because the IRA finally convinced him it would no longer try to oust Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom by force. The IRA renounced violence and disarmed in 2005, has not been implicated in significant violence since, and this year agreed with its Sinn Fein allies to accept the authority of the Northern Ireland police.

Power-sharing was the central goal of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord of 1998, a pact rejected by Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party at the time because it included Sinn Fein. Britain and Ireland toiled to bring the factions together after 2003, when voters made them the dominant parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the foundation for cooperation.
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