`Time and patience' needed for progress in Ulster talks

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The Independent Online
NORTHERN IRELAND'S key republican and Unionist negotiators trudged back to the negotiating table yesterday for yet another session aimed at breaking the devolution and decommissioning deadlock.

The word is that serious business is being done in the Belfast talks, which adjourned late last night, but that time and patience may be needed. The process is being judged on a meeting by meeting basis.

The talks are being chaired by the former US senator George Mitchell, who in the course of the past week has met Tony Blair, Bill Clinton andBertie Ahern. At the heart of the talks are small teams led by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams.

Senator Mitchell said last week he intended to have a report on his nine gruelling weeks of talks ready in the near future, but there is no indication whether this might take the form of a blueprint for a deal, or simply a list of suggestions.

Yesterday all sides denied rumours that a deal had already been done, and that the continuation of talks was aimed at conditioning the republican and Unionist grassroots for possibly painful compromises.

There were also generalised republican denials of weekend reports that the IRA was preparing for a measure of "tactical decommissioning" as part of a new deal.