David Trimble, the Unionist Party leader, signalled that the new executive would come into being if the IRA agrees to appoint a go-between to liaise with the International Decommissioning Commission.
The IRA is expected to comply with this today or tomorrow, as part of the deal that has emerged from Mr Trimble's weeks of talks with the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams.
If all goes well, an executive is expected to be appointed next month. Under a mathematical formula that has already been agreed, it will contain not only Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein but also members of the Democratic Unionist Party led by the Rev Ian Paisley.
But Mr Trimble will first have to secure his party's assent to the deal at a meeting of its 860-strong ruling council, which has been pencilled in for 27 November.
He will undoubtedly face strong opposition from members who argue that the party mantra of "no guns, no government" means that Sinn Fein should not be admitted to the executive unless actual IRA decommissioning has begun.
Mr Trimble contends, with a subtlety that may be beyond some of his more militant party members, that the appointment of an IRA go-between will amount to confirmation that a process of decommissioning has begun.
The impending IRA statement will not include a promise to decommission, though it will be couched in conciliatory terms and will commend the peace process. Supporters of Mr Trimble took heart yesterday from the declaration by Mr Adams "that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process".
There was instant denunciation, however, from Peter Robinson, of the Democratic Unionist Party. In a statement that urged the Ulster Unionist Party to "depose Trimble now", he declared: "How dare he treat the Unionist electorate to a stage-managed performance with his new friend and partner Gerry Adams."
Mr Trimble can expect many similar attacks in the run-up to the crucial council meeting. Although the council's decisions are not always predictable, he and his advisers believe they have a good chance of prevailing.
The Sinn Fein and Unionist statements, which were discussed by both parties, were designed to show they appreciated each other's concerns and had established a degree of trust in the 10 weeks of talks led by the former US senator George Mitchell. Sinn Fein was most concerned to project that it regarded violence as a thing of the past, while the Unionists promised to respect nationalism as a legitimate tradition.
Earlier this week, Mr Mitchell raised spirits by saying he was increasingly confident a way would be found to resolve the protracted deadlock. This has been followed by a stream of carefully orchestrated statements. Yesterday's included expressions of approval from parties with links to loyalist paramilitary groups, though they were non- committal on the question of their own decommissioning.
Mr Trimble, asked whether his position was still one of "no guns, no government," replied: "We are trying to realise both devolution and decommissioning, so they are clearly linked. I can say for myself, and for my party colleagues, we are bursting to get at the real jobs."
The Irish government described the Unionist and Sinn Fein statements as generous and visionary, commending both parties for their "courage and leadership". The nationalist SDLP said: "At this critical stage we urge all parties to continue working in the new spirit of understanding that has come to characterise the latter stages of the review."
Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, appealed for the people of the province to show patience and added: "I urge everyone to do what the politicians have done and that is to stand back, take stock, and reflect. Showing cool heads now is a very small price to pay."Reuse content