Trimble wants deadline for IRA arms talks

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The Independent Online
September could be used as a deadline for progress on arms decommissioning by the IRA, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader said last night after talks with John Major at Downing Street.

He said the Prime Minister had assured him the issue "could not be sidelined" if Sinn Fein joins the cross-party talks beginning on 10 June. The Ulster Unionist leader met Mr Major and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, to seek assurances there would be no more concessions to the IRA over decommissioning in order to get Sinn Fein to the negotiating table.

At the weekend Sir Patrick appeared to signal a significant climbdown by making it clear Sinn Fein will be able to take part in full negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland before the IRA handed over its weapons.

Mr Trimble emerged from the talks satisfied with the assurances, although ambiguity remains over the talks. He said they would begin with declarations by the parties agreeing to the six Mitchell principles. The "opening session" may run through the summer, including talks on decommissioning. "Our position is that [it] must take place within the context of the opening session. September was put down as a benchmark in terms of getting the issue resolved ... that is put down as a long stop to ensure the issue cannot be sidelined."

Invitations to next week's talks were issued last night by Sir Patrick but Sinn Fein was excluded because of the IRA's failure to resume the ceasefire. Today he is expected to reach agreement with Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, on arrangements for the talks, which will exclude Sinn Fein unless the IRA resumes the truce in the next six days.

Dublin is anxious to ensure Sinn Fein is included in the talks but has not softened its support for the demand that the ceasefire must be resumed before Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, can be admitted.

If the IRA refuses to announce a new ceasefire, it is likely Mr Adams will try to embarrass the two governments by going to the talks to be turned away.

Mo Mowlam, Labour's spokeswoman on Northern Ireland, is tell a meeting in County Antrim today that a clear ceasefire declaration by the IRA should enable Sinn Fein to join the talks without further conditions being applied to validate whether the truce will last.