Clinton highlights IRA prisoners

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The Independent Online
The pressure on the Government to make further concessions on IRA prisoners was intensified yesterday by President Bill Clinton in a call to remove obstacles to progress on the peace process.

The US President, who is planning to visit Britain in November, made it clear that he wanted to see Sinn Fein brought into all-party talks by the time of his arrival. Although he supported British demands for the IRA to make progress on decommissioning weapons, Mr Clinton highlighted the importance of the Government moving on IRA demands for the release of more prisoners.

"While decisions on prisoner issues are internal matters for each government, I would welcome any measure aimed at helping the process of healing and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, including movement on prisoners," he said.

As Mr Clinton called for progress, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, warned the peace process was at risk.

The Government is preparing a package, which would include 50 per cent remission for republican and loyalist prisoners, and large-scale transfers from the mainland to Irish prisons of IRA prisoners. There has been no movement on the IRA over the decommissioning of weapons, which is proving the stumbling block.

"I am looking forward to visiting a peaceful Northern Ireland later this year," Mr Clinton said in an interview for the Irish Times. "The best guarantee of a just and lasting peace is for people to talk together about their aspirations for the future as well as their differences and fears.

"Naturally, I would be pleased if talks were under way by the time I visit Northern Ireland and I know that the Irish and British governments are committed to finding a way to remove any impediments."

Mr Adams warned yesterday that the peace process would be "in a crisis" if all-party talks were not under way in time for November's trip to Ireland by the US President.

The Sinn Fein president called on the Prime Minister, John Major, to "take a leadership role, do his duty and move the entire situation towards a peace settlement". Speaking in Dublin, Mr Adams praised work done for the peace process by Mr Clinton.

Intelligence reports to the Government suggest that the ceasefire is not in imminent danger of breaking down. But ministers are keen to be seen to making progress, although it will involve a delicate balancing act between the Unionists and the nationalist community.

Mr Major and John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, have pencilled in a summit for the first week in September, in the hope of announcing progress.