Blair to shake hands with Gerry Adams

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Tony Blair will become the first British prime minister of the modern era to shake hands formally with republican leaders when he meets Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, at the multi-party talks in Belfast today. Although only 10 minutes have been set aside for the encounter the arrangements appear to have been the subject of intense and careful thought on the Government's part.

Mr Blair and Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, have been concerned to take into account both republican and Unionist sensitivities in settling the details of the meeting. It comes as the eight parties involved in the talks are poised to get down to detailed discussion on the political future. Negotiations were launched last week with opening statements from the parties, who are today scheduled to open detailed discussions on Northern Ireland's internal administration.

The Prime Minister's appearance at the Stormont talks will be part of a wider visit to Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland during which he is scheduled to meet workers, industrialists, members of the security forces and others. In deference to Unionist concerns the Blair-Adams handshake is to take place within the talks complex and hence behind closed doors.