David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, has virtually ruled out face- to-face talks with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein leaders. He said they were "not fit" to sit down with at the negotiating table.
"Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are the Karadzic and Mladic of Northern Ireland. They are not regarded as fit persons to sit at the table in view of their record.
"I don't envisage a situation of personal contact with those gentlemen. It is possible if circumstances were right, there might be a talks process. But I don't see that in the short term. It is for that reason we have emphasised the advantage of going down the route of creating an elected body at which there could be the beginnings of a debate," Mr Trimble said.
Despite his tough talking in an interview for the Independent, he did not rule out joining the talks process. But if they proceed to all-party talks, it is hard to see how he will agree to be in the same room as Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness.
Mr Trimble said the speech by the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, amounted to a "a blunt demand to drop the decommissioning requirement" for the IRA to give up weapons before Sinn Fein could join all-party inclusive talks. "That is what it boils down to. That is not realistic politics.''
Would John Major give way? "Not after all he has said and done on this issue."
So he was confident Mr Major would not cave in? "I don't want to use that sort of language. He knows what our position is. It's rather difficult to see how such a U-turn could be justified. In any event, such a U-turn would be ineffective, because talks without our presence would be a meaningless exercise. We would have to be satisfied in our own terms that the circumstances were right for talks."
The underlying message is that the Ulster Unionists are willing to go along with the Major initiative, albeit reluctantly. Mr Trimble, who was given 15 minutes with Bill Clinton at the White House recently, does not believe the US President's visit at the end of the month will contribute much to the peace process.
"In a general sense, the Clinton visit will be helpful because he is bringing a large entourage of officials and businessmen. They are all going to discover the degree of normality, that the worst affected areas of Belfast are a darned sight better than typical American inner city areas.
"That is going to be useful in changing the perception. Apart from that, I don't have any great expectation from the visit."
"It's obvious that the republicans think Mr Clinton is their special factor who is going to make the British government change its policy, but we'll see."
Mr Trimble added: "It's not in Clinton's interests to pressurise some sort of artificial political development because he has got to look forward to November 1996 polling day.
He has got to say, "Are my actions going to look good a year from now?"
"Resorting to short-term panic pressure from Sinn Fein, SDLP or whatever, is not in his interests and I think his advisers are sensible enough to realise that."Reuse content