Ulster: Blair and Ahern in last bid for peace

Ulster: Senator George Mitchell, who brokered the Good Friday Agreemen t, offers to return as talks to save it start
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TONY BLAIR and the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, are due to arrive in Belfast tonight for a vital week of talks that are aimed at breaking the protracted arms decommissioning logjam and paving the way for the agreed new Northern Ireland administration.

They may be joined by the former talks chairman George Mitchell, who yesterday indicated his willingness to return to Belfast if asked to do so. The appearance of these major players is seen as possibly the last best hope to get the peace process over this hurdle.

In Belfast both pessimism and optimism are evident, one body of opinion maintaining that the gap between unionists and republicans on decommissioning is too large to be bridged, while another holds that the process has come too far to collapse at this point. Even the optimists, however, have failed to come up with a formula that might reconcile the two positions. The hope lies in the sense that the overall desire for a stable peace will somehow be enough to achieve eventual success.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern appealed to the province's politicians at the weekend, warning them that the people of Northern Ireland would not forgive them if they failed to implement the Good Friday Agreement.

In a joint statement, the British and Irish prime ministers declared: "If we do not, generations to come will not forgive us for giving up the chance to progress down the path of peace and set in train the new beginning promised in the Good Friday Agreement. The prize is enormous but it must be shared. There must be no winners and losers."

Success in the negotiations is generally thought to be dependent on movement from both of the main figures in the decommissioning debate, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Yesterday the two men set out their differing requirements.

Mr Trimble said: "I'm all in favour of bringing things to a head this coming week. I think that is probably desirable. We could make a lot of progress this week or we could find ourselves in serious difficulties. The time has come for people to choose.

"In order for there to be sufficient confidence within the greater number of the people here in Northern Ireland we have to say to the republican movement, to Sinn Fein and the rest of the movement and the IRA, that it is time for them to deliver. Last year they undertook to disarm, that was part of the agreement. They have so far failed to do so and as a result there is a lack of confidence here in their intention."

Mr Adams declared: "I am convinced that we are going to get to a democratic peace settlement and that's why I say to David Trimble, and I've said this to him privately, that we are going to get to that eventually. But why not now? Why put it off? This is the time for moving forward, for seizing the moment and moving positively together and not letting people down."

Leading article, Review, page 3