Mitchell back in the picture as negotiator

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The former Senator George Mitchell is expected to make himself available in London next week to British and Irish officials to help construct a common formula for all-party talks.

A formal request for Mr Mitchell to act as a peace envoy was made yesterday by Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fail, Ireland's largest party, through the American Ambassador in Dublin. Irish officials said they were favourably disposed towards his becoming involved.

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs stressed Dublin had not yet arranged talks with Mr Mitchell, who visits London on Wednesday and Thursday as a member of an international crisis resolution group. But he said Mr Mitchell "could play a very positive role. If he is here he will be met," he predicted.

The Irish foreign minister, Dick Spring, met Mr Mitchell on Thursday in Washington to review developments since his report was published last month, and the has publicly acknowledge he is "a valuable resource" who may be called on again to broker a common position between parties in the event of deadlock between London and Dublin.

The Irish side would welcome revived interest in the six core proposals set down in the report of Mr Mitchell's international body on arms decommissioning, binding parties to exclusively peaceful methods and to total, verifiable disarmament.

"Mitchell is the high road to all-party talks" said the spokesman". Dublin has not fully ruled out elections, particularly as a way of involving Unionists, but argues the Mitchell principles must be adopted as the foundation of such a process, ideally facilitated by two-day Dayton-style "proximity" talks.

Another senior source spoke of the "sense of tragedy" Dublin felt at London's failure to back the Mitchell initiative. "It had the potential to make the whole thing flow" he said.

He hinted that that decision probably convinced the IRA their ceasefire would not deliver all-party talks: "I really think the British rejection of it [the Mitchell report] was disastrous."

"In Dublin a senior Irish spokesman said the Prime Minister will meet the Taoiseach John Bruton in London at the end of this month. He said diary difficulties prevented an earlier meeting.

The two leaders spoke twice over the weekend in the wake of the bomb. The governments also conferred yesterday over the content of Mr Major's address.

The Dublin Government's blunt weekend exclusion of Sinn Fein from formal ministerial talks provoked a backlash yesterday from senior figures involved in brokering the 1994 IRA ceasefire.

The former Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Albert Reynolds cautioned against closing doors. "It's very easy to condemn. It's very easy to retreat to safe political positions," he warned "Talks are the only alternative to violence. The political process needed "to be injected with the lifeblood of political activity".

The US Ambassador in Dublin, Jean Kennedy-Smith said Washington felt that "without Gerry Adams there was no peace process". She said US officials believed Mr Adams "didn't know anything" about the London bomb. "The administration is appalled by the bombing, but that shouldn't be the end of the peace process," she said.

Later, in sharp contrast to the policy of her host nation, the US Ambassador met the Sinn Fein vice-president Pat Doherty in the Dublin embassy.

The Belfast Irish News and the New York Times also challenged the exclusion of Sinn Fein, which the Belfast paper called "the biggest mistake of his [Mr Bruton's] premiership so far".

Earlier foreign minister Dick Spring defended the Irish Government's exclusion of Sinn Fein. He said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Dublin had any alternative in the wake of the bomb. But he emphasised informal contacts with the party would continue. The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams again accused Dublin of knee-jerk reactions. Writing in the Irish Times he claimed the Taoiseach had made a "unilateral decision to refuse to accord Sinn Fein our democratic rights."

An early political casualty of renewed IRA violence may be the 16-month old Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.