Bruton bids to reassure Major

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The Independent Online

Political Editor, Bangkok

John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, moved swiftly yesterday to calm British reaction to the IRA Army Council's refusal of an immediate restoration of its ceasefire, condemned by John Major as a "sick joke".

The Taoiseach also went out of his way to join Mr Major in urging Sinn Fein to persuade the IRA to abandon violence. "We don't want another life or another moment to be lost," Mr Bruton declared.

In an early morning meeting in Bangkok, where both leaders are attending an EU-Asia economic summit, Mr Bruton sought to reassure Mr Major that the IRA's opaque and apparently negative statement on Thursday was not its final and considered response to the communique issued after Wednesday's Anglo-Irish summit which set a date for all- party talks.

Mr Bruton gave a series of interviews in which he made clear the Irish government's view that there was now no excuse for the IRA not to restore the ceasefire.

He told Irish radio: "We now have a a definite date for all-party talks. It's June 10. It's now for Sinn Fein to fulfil their part of the exercise, get the IRA to stop the killing and then everybody will be able to sit round the table."

Mr Bruton, who unlike Mr Major had time to consult officials at home before responding publicly to the Army Council statement, was said to be reassured that it was a response to the pre-arranged meeting with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume on Wednesday rather than to the communique. He said it was issued as if the Anglo-Irish summit "had not occurred at all."

Downing Street made it clear yesterday that Mr Major was aware of the Irish analysis, but did not seek to reconcile his angry remarks of Thursday evening. But Mr Adams said they were "unhelpful" and that it was not the time for "kneejerk" reactions.