HISTORY will accuse Bill Clinton of many things. But it will never accuse him of shirking the most pressing international issues of our age.

On the world stage, his eight years as President have witnessed his dogged determination to solve two of the most intractable conflicts - Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

It would have been the easy option for the US President to steer well clear of these regions. Instead, he chose to tackle these problems head-on.

Some will no doubt allege that President Clinton's interventions have ended in abject failure. After all, the Middle East situation remains as tense today as at any time in the past 50 years, and an undercurrent of terrorism still threatens to topple the fragile peace in Northern Ireland.

But to saddle him with the reputation of an international loser would be an unfair and harsh judgement on President Clinton, the statesman.

It is to his eternal credit that he has chosen not to try and impose a settlement or dictate peace, either in Northern Ireland or the Middle East.

He has come to the sensible conclusion that lasting peace can only be achieved through dialogue and agreement between the opposing communities.

In the Middle East, he has played a crucial role in getting the Israelis and Palestinians together around the negotiating table.

While the current wave of unrest and killings shows how far there is still to go before a lasting peace settlement is reached, the mere fact that the Palestinians and Israelis recognise each other's right to statehood represents a massive leap forward. It is progress largely brought about by President Clinton.

Likewise in Northern Ireland, he avoided the temptation to tell others what to do. Through his own diplomacy, and that of his envoy George Mitchell, he helped broker the Good Friday Agreement.

That agreement may be coming under strain but it remains, as he reminded the people of Northern Ireland yesterday, the key to long-term stability.

It is fitting that he is spending his last few weeks in office still trying to put fresh momentum into the peace processes he has taken to heart.

Whoever emerges as the next President from the electoral and legal wrangling in Florida will have a hard act to follow on the world stage.