Unionists to visit US at Vice-President's request

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IN RESPONSE to an invitation from Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States, two members of the Ulster Unionist Party - David Trimble MP, spokesman on legal affairs, and Jeffrey Donaldson, Honorary Secretary of the party - are expected to visit Washington on 26 and 27 September to discuss progress towards peace in Ireland.

According to Irish government officials in Dublin, Mr Gore informed the Irish Prime Miniser, Albert Reynolds, of the invitation during a telephone conversation at the weekend. 'The invitation is to show an even-handed approach to all communities,' a spokesman in Dublin said.

It is likely that while in Washington the two unionists will meet Mr Gore and other members of the Clinton administration. Talks with members of Congress are also certain to be arranged. A visit by the leader of the UUP, James Molyneaux, is expected in mid-November, sources said.

News of the invitation coincides with continuing speculation about a possible visit to the US by the Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. In its efforts to demonstrate equal concern for both sides in the peace process, the White House may be hoping to see the unionists before arranging talks with Mr Adams.

The Clinton administration continues to signal its interest in playing a part in the Irish peace process, perhaps with an eye on staging a 'peace handshake' on the White House lawn in the mould set by the Middle East agreement. Recently, Mr Gore has been contacting many of the main players, including John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.