Deadlock on Irish summit

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The Independent Online
LONDON and Dublin remained deadlocked this weekend over Irish calls for a "time-lock" safeguard to ensure a firm date for all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

British and Ulster Unionist resistance to the proposal has delayed agreement on the timing of a summit between John Major and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, which was expected to take place on Wednesday.

In the US it was reported that the Clinton administration was offering to act as a guarantor that all-party talks begin on a specified date as part of a wider package being negotiated with London and Dublin.

Sinn Fein yesterday highlighted the importance to nationalists of a target date: Martin McGuinness said on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics: "If we have a guaranteed date for all-party negotiations, I and others within the leadership of Sinn Fein are prepared to try again."

But John Taylor, deputy leader of the Ulster Unionists (who could be decisive in the Commons vote on the Scott report), is firmly against the idea. He said: "Governments cannot deliver target dates when parties are involved. All they can do is agree guidelines - if they start promising dates they will find they cannot deliver."

Dublin insists the summit is only worthwhile if it can advance the peace process. "The intention would be that there would be a summit with an outcome," an Irish source said pointedly.

Meanwhile, Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, and David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, clashed over the timing and agenda of a possible meeting. Mr Spring said in a speech on Friday night that Mr Trimble was placing "arbitrary obstacles" in the way of their dialogue. Mr Trimble said yesterday that as late as 6pm on Friday the Irish foreign affairs department had phoned him to say that because of "time difficulties" a meeting could not be held before or on the planned date. "So I find it strange that he should launch this misleading attack last night in his own constituency."