Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is pinning her hopes on the US administration to help produce a breakthrough in Washington next week when the main party leaders visit the United States for St Patrick's Day celebrations.
President Clinton is expected to exert pressure on the Sinn Fein leadership for the IRA to make a start on decommissioning its weapons. This will allow David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, to go ahead with the establishment of the new Ulster power-sharing executive by the end-of- March deadline.
Mr Clinton will also urge the Ulster Unionists to "go the extra mile" for peace, as Tony Blair said this week.
Ms Mowlam said: "I'm sure President Clinton has made clear he will do everything he can to help. But I think it's important to find out from the parties as well what he can do from their perspective, because it is them he will be wanting to help.
"I'm sure that just providing an environment for people to meet and talk in a relaxed fashion will help build up some of the confidence we need to move forward in the weeks ahead."
Mr Trimble continued to talk up the prospects of a last-minute settlement after he emerged from Downing Street following yesterday's meeting with the Prime Minister.
But he was put under intense pressure from his Ulster Unionist colleagues not to give way over their demand that the IRA should begin decommissioning its arms before Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are allowed to take seats in the new Assembly power-sharing executive.
One of Mr Trimble's senior colleagues said: "There was no progress. We are deadlocked."
Mr Trimble, First Minister designate in the new Northern Ireland Assembly, continued to talk up the chances of finding a way through the stumbling block of decommissioning. "I'm quite sure it can be resolved," he said. "It is within the capability of the paramilitary groups to do it. It's not a matter that they cannot do, it is a matter that they won't do. I don't think society can tolerate that `won't'," he said.
Ms Mowlam said she was not contemplating failing to resolve the arms issue by the new deadline for the setting up of the Assembly, in three weeks' time. "I have found in the past it is deeply unhelpful to plan for failure. I'm not planning for failure, I'm planning to call a meeting of the Assembly in the week of the 29th."
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