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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 11:33 GMT

Sinn Fein strident after Downing Street talks

Bill Clinton has made a new appeal for progress

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator has emerged from talks with Tony Blair to deliver a hardline message to his political opponents.

Martin McGuinness's statement outside Downing Street
Martin McGuinness said he believed Northern Ireland's First Secretary David Trimble was wrecking the peace process.

He said Mr Trimble was in breach of a number of key parts of the Good Friday Agreement, including the section on decommissioning.

The Ulster Unionists are refusing to allow Sinn Fein to take up its seats in the executive committee of the province's new Assembly until the process of arms disposal begins.

[ image: Tony Blair: Continuing talks with Northern Ireland's leaders]
Tony Blair: Continuing talks with Northern Ireland's leaders
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr McGuinness insisted the two issues could not be linked.

"We in Sinn Fein fought the assembly elections some months ago, we achieved the mandate which entitled us in a executive committee of 10 to two seats.

"Our right to sit in such a body is in my opinion in no way dependent on what the IRA does or do."

Mr McGuinness said the Ulster Unionists led by Mr Trimble were alone on this matter.

He refused to comment on speculation about whether the IRA agreed to start decommissioning at a top-level weekend conference.

Mr McGuinness's remarks showed no signs of any progress having been made during his latest talks with the UK prime minister.

[ image: John Hume and David Trimble: To receive Nobel peace prize]
John Hume and David Trimble: To receive Nobel peace prize
Mr Blair is pressing ahead with a concerted diplomatic effort to force a breakthrough on on-going disagreements before Mr Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume receive the Nobel peace prize in Olso, Norway, on Thursday.

He also met nationalist SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon in separate talks at Downing Street.

Mr Mallon said afterwards he would continue to talk to the unionist but could not offer new concessions.

"It's not a matter of negotiation - something that has been agreed.

"But we are willing to sit down today, tomorrow and any day with the Ulster Unionist Party at political level to have further discussions."

Earlier, US President Bill Clinton added his voice to calls not to let rows ruin the peace process.

The BBC's Mark Simpson: President Clinton offered the party leaders advice
He said: "I have closely followed recent efforts to hammer out agreement for the new executive political structures and the bodies to deal with cross-border issues.

"Bringing these institutions alive is absolutely essential to keep up the momentum for peace, and we urge a speedy resolution."

But he stressed the importance of getting rid off the weapons stockpiled by terrorists groups.

[ image: Clinton and Blair working together]
Clinton and Blair working together
The president added: "I also applaud the tireless work of Jean de Chastelain [head of the international decommissioning body] towards achieving the vital goal of disposing of weapons now that the war is over."

Mixed signals continue to emerge on just how much trouble Northern Ireland's peace process faces.

After meeting Mr Blair on Tuesday, Mr Trimble's deputy John Taylor said the parties were "within an ace" of clinching an agreement.

But this was quickly contradicted by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern who said that evening that implementation of the Good Friday Peace Agreement had "not moved an inch" in a month.

He warned the present deadlock could easily continue until the new year.

The decommissioning of paramilitary arms is also the major stumbling block to the setting up of north-south cross-border bodies.

The UK's Conservative have decided to put the issue before the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon during an opposition day debate.

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