Sinn Fein sure that Blair will talk with Adams

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The Independent Online
Despite Downing Street denials, Sinn Fein said last night it was confident that a face-to-face meeting would take place in the next few weeks between its president, Gerry Adams, and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.

With the Government expected to announce this week that Sinn Fein will be admitted to all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland next month, a senior member of the party said that its inclusion in the negotiations would make an encounter inevitable. "Once we enter the talks, we will have to be included in any round of prime ministerial meetings," he said. "I trust Tony Blair will want to keep abreast with what we are thinking, and it's my understanding that he will instigate a meeting."

Mr Blair's aides yesterday played down weekend reports that a meeting between the two men was imminent. One report suggested that it could take place at Stormont rather than Downing Street, to minimise any potential embarrassment.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is expected to confirm at the end of the week that the IRA's latest ceasefire has been sufficiently well observed to permit Sinn Fein's presence at the talks, which start formally on 6 September. The Government set a six-week "quarantine period" after the IRA called the ceasefire on 19 July, which it said would be used to assess whether the new peace was "genuine in word and deed". That period will be over next weekend, but Ms Mowlam's announcement is anticipated on Thursday or Friday.

Ms Mowlam's assessment of how well the ceasefire has been observed will be based not only on the lack of any "spectacular" terrorist attacks, but also on army and security briefings about weapons movements and the numbers of punishment beatings and sectarian incidents that have taken place.

The Sinn Fein source denied reports that a meeting had already been arranged between Mr Adams and Mr Blair, but said that the party was "pushing for a meeting as soon as possible". There was no suggestion yet as to where it might take place, he said. "It doesn't matter to us where we meet as long as it is for substantive discussions," he said, adding: "We won't take part in any surreptitious meetings or anything that is contrived. If and when Gerry Adams meets Mr Blair, it will be for substantive talks."

The first political session of the Stormont talks is scheduled for 15 September. There is still uncertainty about who will chair the committee to oversee arms decommissioning in the province. The Ulster Unionists accused the Irish Government at the weekend of seeking to block the appointment of the favoured candidate, Canadian general John de Chastelain, because of his tough line on decommissioning. The issue may be resolved at a meeting between Ms Mowlam and the Irish foreign minister, Ray Burke, tomorrow.