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Unionists urge caution on US-Sinn Fein links

A delegation of Ulster Unionists yesterday urged the Clinton adminstration to proceed cautiously in its dealings with the IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein, but said its own visit to the United States should reinforce the existing 'hopeful trends' towards a durable settlement for Northern Ireland.

Speaking after a first round of talks on Capitol Hill, William Ross, MP for Londonderry East, praised the US - long criticised by loyalists for a pro-nationalist line on Ireland - for showing a 'more even-handed approach'.

But, he added, Washington should impress upon Gerry Adams the need for the IRA to dismantle its arms stockpile when the Sinn Fein leader holds the expected meetings with American officials in the US next week. 'We're beginning to see a more even-handed approach. We're here at the invitation of the administration,' Mr Ross said before the three MPs and Jeffrey Donaldson, a high-ranking party official, conferred with Senator Edward Kennedy, a leading representative of the Catholic Irish-American lobby. Later, the MPs, who return home tonight, went to the White House for talks with Vice-President Al Gore and

Anthony Lake, Mr Clinton's national security adviser, whom SDLP leader John Hume met for an hour on Tuesday.

In a sign of the priority the administration is giving to the quest for peace in Ireland, Mr Clinton took part in the talks for 30 minutes.