Adams leaves Dublin talks armed with quiet optimism

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The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams yesterday expressed quiet optimism about a resolution to the IRA arms decommissioning impasse, after meeting the Taoiseach, John Bruton, and the Irish foreign minister, Dick Spring, in Dublin.

Mr Adams said they had "focused on the need to resolve any difficulties ... I am satisfied we will apply ourselves to finding ways to do just that". But he declined to specify what formula if any had been discussed to remove what he called "a pending crisis created by the British Government."

While reiterating that exploratory talks with Stormont ministers were over, Mr Adams said he and Martin McGuinness had written to Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the political affairs minister Michael Ancram, seeking a meeting. "But we aren't going to be engaged in a charade, or conditional talks," he said.

The latest tensions followed weekend warnings by Sinn Fein leaders that British insistence on unilateral IRA arms decommissioning before substantive talks could undermine peace efforts and see Northern Ireland "slipping back into conflict". Mr Mayhew underlined this demand this week, saying there was "no way" ministers could open substantive talks with a party associated with paramilitaries "who have made no progress in decommissioning".

The fears expressed by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have been linked in Dublin with unease expressed by IRA leaders to Sinn Fein at a reported meeting in the Irish border town of Dundalk recently. Mr McGuinness subsequently cited the August anniversary of the IRA ceasefire as a date by which Britain had to be seen to be moving towards inclusive talks.

Yesterday's Dublin meeting was the second in a series of bi-lateral discussions sought by Mr Bruton in an effort to revive the faltering peace process. It followed talks last week between the Taoiseach and SDLP leaders.

Mr Bruton said this week he believed there was "broad agreement" on what weaponry could be decommissioned, where this should happen, and to whom arms could be delivered. But he said in the Dail the problem lay in "when".

His comments followed renewed speculation that assistance from an inter- national partner acceptable to all sides could help resolve the problem.

But Britain's stance has been sharply attacked by one of its former diplomatic partners. The former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds said this week that its insistence on decomissioning before Sinn Fein was allowed into full talks was a breach of the understanding in the 1993 Downing Street Declaration.