Dublin wary over early summit

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The Independent Online
NEW British proposals to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process are being studied by the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton.

The Dublin government said John Major's plans, delivered yesterday, would be assessed over the weekend by Mr Bruton, together with senior officials from his office and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But Dublin sources remained cautious about the prospects of an early Anglo-Irish summit,prior to President Bill Clinton's planned visit at the end of the month. Further discussions between officials are thought to be a likely initial step.

An Irish government spokesman said the plans would be looked at against the background of "the reasonable compromise proposals" relayed by Mr Bruton to 10 Downing Street two weeks ago.

Mr Major's plan is thought to concern overcoming differences between London and Dublin over the timing of IRA moves towards arms decommissioning before the entry of Sinn Fein into all-party talks. The impasse has arisen over Britain's insistence on the so-called "Washington III" condition that some decommissioning has to start before all-party talks.

At the end of August Mr Bruton cancelled a summit in London, arguing that insufficient progress had been made to justify the visit. Precisely how Mr Major's new formula aimed to break that deadlock remained unclear yesterday.

In Co Down, John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, yesterday put forward fresh proposals to break the stalemate. The acknowledged joint architect of the IRA ceasefire called on the London and Dublin governments to begin immediate preparatory talks leading into "substantive political negotiations" within 10 days.

He issued his "act now" call at the 25th anniversary conference of the mainly Catholic SDLP at Newcastle, Co Down, making clear that Sinn Fein backed his move.

But nationalist sources were dismissive of the British initiative, accusing Mr Major of trying to "pass the buck" for the failure to begin all-party talks.

Describing his plan as "a parallel process for talks and arms", Mr Hume said: "The two governments should agree to launch the preparatory phase for all-party talks in the peace process which will, not later than 30 November, lead into substantive political negotiations in round-table format, to reach an agreed political settlement."

The two governments should also ask George Mitchell, a former US senator, to head an international body "to ascertain, and advise the two governments on, the commitment to peaceful and democratic methods of all political parties that will be participating in the round-table negotiations and consequently of their commitment to the removal of all weapons from Irish politics." The body should be asked to work out how the question of arms could be finally and satisfactorily settled.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, has said that if the talks break down his party "will have to assert the supremacy of our strategy, which is a peace strategy". His remarks, to reporters in the US before he flew back to make a speech today, are being seen as meaning that if the IRA resumed its "armed struggle", Sinn Fein would not support it. Mr Adams insisted his party would assert that "dialogue is the only vehicle for change".

Northern Ireland politicians are still waiting to hear whether President Clinton will make his visit to Dublin and Belfast as planned at the end of this month. Officials said they did not expect to learn if he was coming or not until a few days before his planned departure.