Major and Sinn Fein closer on ceasefire

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR and Sinn Fein edged further towards each other yesterday on the eve of Gerry Adams departing for a coast-to-coast tour of the US. Meanwhile Dick Spring, the Irish foreign minister, said he hoped the framework document for political talks on Northern Ireland could be agreed next month.

The Prime Minister, speaking on his return from South Africa, said Sinn Fein was 'very nearly there'. Once they had made it clear 'that they have given up violence for good and they won't return to it' the clock would start ticking for talks which could be under way by Christmas, Mr Major said.

His words in turn were welcomed by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, who read them as indicating that the British government was now close to accepting the IRA ceasefire as permanent.

Mr Major, he said, 'appears to be inching towards the acceptance of the inevitability of talks with Sinn Fein'. Echoing Mr Major's demands for words as well as deeds he said: 'The sooner Mr Major matches his words with deeds, the soooner the peace process can move forward.'

Mr Adams starts a two-week visit to the US today. The US government has granted him a visa on condition he does not fund raise directly or indirectly. British ministers appear to be hoping that during media interviews there Mr Adams may find the words to make clear that the ceasefire which is holding on the ground is permanent.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said he hoped Mr Adams would face 'a lot of hard and simple questions and I hope some simple and very clear answers will be given'.

Sir Patrick was speaking after the first meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference since the IRA ceasefire, an upbeat session after which Dick Spring said the gap between the two governments on whether to accept the ceasefire was narrowing. 'I think that we are coming closer together all the time,' he said.

At the meeting the ministers agreed to 'press ahead urgently' with work on the framework document which both sides said involved complex issues. On BBC Radio 4, however, Mr Spring said: 'We are very close to bringing that to completion and I would hope we can do so during the month of October.' The document, their communique said, would provide 'an important aid to the search for a comprehensive political settlement'.

Sir Patrick characterised the talks as 'very useful, very friendly and very workmanlike'. But he said there could be no lowering of the guard against terrorism while organisations such as the INLA and loyalist paramilitaries had yet to renounce violence.