Irish peace negotiations poised 'on a knife-edge'

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The Independent Online

The peace process was on a knife-edge last night, Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said after a day dominated by confusion and concern that the talks were about to fail.

The peace process was on a knife-edge last night, Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said after a day dominated by confusion and concern that the talks were about to fail.

"Of course we are on a knife-edge. I am not disputing that, but we are on a knife-edge with a lot going for us too." he said. Yesterday the former US senator George Mitchell adjourned his review of the Good Friday Agreement in the hope that it would allow tempers to cool."The review has reached themost critical stage. I have asked the parties to pause over the weekend and reflect on the decisions they have to make."

The move followed a day of confusion about the exact state of play within David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party, which was initially reported to have rejected proposals worked out by the Unionist leader and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, over 10 weeks of talks.

A majority of Unionist members of the Belfast assembly had, it emerged, voted on Thursday for a package designed to lead to devolution and decommissioning.

The confusion raised republican suspicions that Unionist sources were misreporting the state of play, perhaps in an attempt to extract concessions.Yesterday Unionists who opposed the package claimed that at least seven of the 26 assembly members present had voted against.

Although that would leave a clear majority in Mr Trimble's favour, his precarious position within the assembly means that seven defections might spell defeat for him.

In any event, he needs a majority in the 800-strong ruling Ulster Unionist Council to accept the package as policy before proceeding to the assembly itself. The package, as thrashed out between himself and Mr Adams, is not believed to provide a guarantee of the de-commissioning of IRA weaponry, as the Ulster Unionists had hoped. But it lays out a series of steps which, it is argued, would make decommissioning politically inevitable.

Mr Adams challenged Mr Trimble to show leadership: "Success in this process requires that those in political leadership fulfil their responsibilities," he said.

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