It could mean Mr Major would have to meet Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader. Irish officials have told Downing Street the Prime Minister's attendance at the opening of the negotiations on 10 June would send the "right signal" to the IRA of the Government's commitment.
Mr Major has been told John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, will be there, if he agrees to represent the British government at the negotiations. Irish sources said: "He can't make his mind up." He fears if the talks dramatically broke down, he would be associated with the failure.
British ministers believe there is a serious risk that the talks could collapse on the first day over the issue of decommissioning IRA weapons.
Tory MPs rejected the idea, floated by Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, for the decommissioning issue to be hived off into separate talks.
Downing Street avoided saying anything officially about Mr Spring's proposal. Irish officials believe it will need talks between Mr Bruton and Mr Major in the coming days to avoid it becoming a crisis.
It was rejected out of hand by David Wilshire, a Tory MP, who warned that it would mean the Ulster Unionists could not attend the talks. His warning was reinforced by other leading Tory backbench MPs yesterday and the Ulster Unionists, led by David Trimble.
Mr Trimble said: "I think it is very foolish of Mr Spring to raise the hare at this issue. I don't see any merit in it at all. We have already dealt with this issue. The Mitchell Report deals with the issue. There is no need for a further report."
The Government will tell Dublin the proposal is unacceptable to the Ulster Unionists and would not work. "What the Irish don't seem to understand is that we can't force the Ulster Unionists to the talks," said one ministerial source.
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