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The BBC's Denis Murray
"Can a president in his last days in office make a difference?"
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BBC NI political correspondent Martina Purdy:
"There is a feeling that President Clinton's visit could be a catalyst for a deal"
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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 11:50 GMT
Impasse resurfaces after Clinton visit

Bill Clinton's visit has kickstarted refocus on impasse
By BBC Northern Ireland political editor, Stephen Grimason

President Clinton came and saw but did he conquer?

Several hours of discussions with the key players in the peace process delivered little in terms of publicly bankable progress but that's not the only means of measurement.

In the same way as judgement on the court case involving David Trimble and Sinn Fein has been reserved, it may be some time before the President's intervention can be accurately assessed.

If nothing else, he has kickstarted another attempt to deal with the triangular argument about policing, demilitarisation and decommissioning.

Tony Blair: Republicans believe he has 're-engaged' with NI issue
Republicans believe Tony Blair is focussing on the problems again; they have argued he has been almost semi-detached in recent months.

Their detestation of the Secretary of State Peter Mandelson and all his works however, could be seen as history repeating itself.

Remember when David Trimble went over Mo Mowlam's head to Tony Blair? It seems like only yesterday.

And the Prime Minister is this time seen more as one of the players rather than the referee.

It is he who is being directly pressured for a move on demilitarisation in South Armagh as the first piece in the breakthrough jigsaw but Mr Blair has made it clear he needs to see the shape of the other pieces in the puzzle and they need to be interlocked with his and placed on the table at the same time.

It is understood the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has offered to beef up security on the southern side of the border in a bid to make the security decision a little easier.

Mr Ahern has been applying his own pressure on the British premier and may follow up on his tephone contacts with Mr Blair with a meeting next week but the Prime Minister is not the only one feeling an elbow in his ribs.

While the taoiseach is seeking what Irish Government sources call a "gesture of intent" from the prime minister in South Armagh, he also wants the IRA to respond with more than a phonecall to General de Chastelain's arms commission.

Jeffrey Donaldson, Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley MP
Jeffrey Donaldson MP: Poised for further challenge to David Trimble
The time honoured formula in the peace process is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed - so here we go again.

As behind the scenes moves are continue in the search for at least a partial breakthrough before Christmas another timer is counting down to January.

Jeffrey Donaldson has said the Ulster Unionist Party must make its mind up about the guns and government issue and he appears poised to force the pace.

If David Trimble does not call a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council in the New Year, Mr Donaldson will wheel out the 60 delegate signatures needed to procure another Waterfront Hall showdown.

Mr Trimble would like to avoid splitting the Ulster Unionist atom again in January and there are even some in the anti-agreement camp who believe there would be little point in the exercise on the grounds that another fudge would be cooked up and the only beneficiaries would be the Democratic Unionist Party.

But most of those who were at the last event thought they would be back before too long for another trip to the political edge.

They will already be thinking of setting aside some turkey for the sandwiches.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton 'will not negotiate' in NI
07 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Bill Clinton 1-0 Belfast Giants
02 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Devolution's turbulent year
11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton: His role in Northern Ireland
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