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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 15:01 GMT
NI breakthrough 'unlikely'

Clinton has taken keen interest in NI politics since his 1995 visit
The Ulster Unionist leader has said he does not expect any major breakthrough in the political deadlock with the visit of the US president to Northern Ireland.

Mr Clinton is due to travel to Belfast next week before meeting the leaders of the province's main political parties at Stormont on 13 December.

The issue of decommissioning and concern over proposed reforms to policing have caused major concerns within the Ulster Unionist Party since devolution returned to Northern Ireland in May.

There has been speculation that Mr Clinton's visit could see some movement in the Northern Ireland peace process.

David Trimble
David Trimble: Significant progress is not likely
But in an interview for BBC Northern Ireland's Inside Politics programme on Saturday, David Trimble said significant progress was not likely.

Mr Trimble said: "I would be delighted if we did see real progress taking place with regard to nationalist support for policing and with regard to republicans carrying out their promises.

"And, indeed, on the general issue of maintaining the peace which I think is just as important as the other issues that have been mentioned.

"I would be delighted if there was progress, I am hoping that there will be such progress.

"But I have to realistically say that there does not seem to be much prospect of it at the moment."

On Thursday, a senior aide of Bill Clinton said he hoped his visit to Northern Ireland would contribute to a climate in which agreement could be found.

Sandy Berger, the US national security adviser, said Mr Clinton intended to use his visit to help create a climate in which the Northern Ireland parties could resolve their differences over issues, including policing and paramilitary arms decommissioning.

Mr Berger made the announcement as he briefed the press on the details of Mr Clinton's visit to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain from 12-14 December.

He said: "The president will speak to the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders while he is there. However, he said the president was not going to get involved in negotiations on the issues currently threatening to stabilise the political process in the province.

Mr Clinton's third visit to Northern Ireland is expected to be his most political, as he is coming to Northern Ireland at a time when the British and Irish Governments are trying to put together a package to avert another political crisis in the province.

Last week, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, said he hoped a resolution could be found on the issues that threatened to destabilise the process, before Mr Clinton arrived.

But there is no sign that any of the main players are prepared to step back from their differing positions on policing, paramilitary decommissioning and demilitarisation.

Sandy Berger: Clinton will not get involved in negotiations
EU Commissioner Chris Patten headed the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Northern Ireland which issued a report last year recommending sweeping change to policing.

The Police NI Act was passed in Westminster in November and its implementation plan is due shortly.

Republicans have rejected the Police NI Act as an unacceptable blueprint for a new police service, which would be acceptable to the nationalist community.

Nationalist politicians also feel that the legislation "diluted" the Patten report and that the act does not follow the "spirit" of the report.

Meanwhile, a date has been set for the judicial review of the ban on two Sinn Fein ministers attending cross border meetings.

Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble introduced the ban in October as part of a package of measures to try to force the IRA to re-engage with the arms decommissioning body.

The hearing will begin in two week's time, on Friday 15 December.

Mr McGuinness and his health minister colleague Bairbre de Brun are now both seeking a judicial review of First Minister David Trimble's decision witholding their nominations to meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council.

The North-South Ministerial Council is one of the political structures set up under the Good Friday Agreement and is particularly important to nationalists.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton 'will not negotiate' in NI
03 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
High hopes for Clinton visit
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble dismisses IRA statement
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Bill Clinton 1-0 Belfast Giants
30 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton may get new peacemaker role
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Devolution's turbulent year
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
NI policing plan 'being revised'
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