THE TWO major combatants (in Northern Ireland) have stepped back from the battlefield; now it is Britain's turn . . .
Mr Major has so far refused to consider talking directly with the Irish republicans on the grounds that their peace declaration was not 'permanent'. But permanence can only come as mutual trust builds. The IRA's ceasefire has held for six weeks, despite provocations and despite the Protestants' earlier refusal to declare peace. The danger of letting this unique moment slip by is much greater than the risk of trusting the IRA's good faith.
The question now is whether Mr Major has the courage to see this moment for what it is . . .
President Clinton deserves credit for extending a visa to allow the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to visit the United States earlier this year. At that time Mr Adams's voice was banned from the British media. Given the opportunity to speak to an American audience, he realised he needed to take the next step, and vowed to 'take the gun out of Irish politics'. Shortly after he returned home, the IRA declared its ceasefire and the British gave him back his voice.
As Mr Adams pointed out yesterday, 'the only force still involved in military operations (in Ireland) are the British'. Mr Major can begin by announcing plans to scale down the British presence, and setting the stage for talks among all the parties.
Editorial in the 'New York Times'.