Northern Ireland talks deadlocked as Trimble stands by threat to quit

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The Independent Online

Talks to save the Good Friday Agreement from crisis were deadlocked last night as David Trimble stood by his threat to quit as Northern Ireland's First Minister if the IRA failed to hand over weapons by 1 July.

Tony Blair and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, held negotiations in Downing Street with leaders of the province's largest pro-Agreement parties. But with the Unionists and Sinn Fein refusing to shift position, there was little sign of a breakthrough. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, flew to Belfast last night for talks with representatives of other parties.

Mr Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader who is under pressure after his party's disappointing election performance, said: "The republican movement ­ paramilitaries generally ­ had obligations in the Agreement. They promised us peace. They haven't delivered it." The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, was pessimistic about the chances of an IRA gesture before Mr Trimble's deadline. He said: "For a British government to be seen to bend to threats and ultimatums is entirely counter-productive and wrong ... All of these issues can be resolved and with goodwill all of these issues will be resolved. Can these be resolved between now and July 1st? I would imagine not."

Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the nationalist SDLP and Deputy First Minister, warned that the peace process was in "very big trouble and people should realise that".

The parties, and the British and Irish governments, are agonising over a formula which will balance enough progress on arms decommissioning to satisfy Unionists with concessions on police reforms and army numbers to win nationalist support.

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