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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 21:22 GMT
NI ministers to meet President Bush
President Bush with Secretary of State Colin Powell
General Colin Powell will be briefed on NI's peace process
Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers are to meet US President George Bush during a three-day trip to Washington.

During their visit, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, and Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, will make their first official joint contacts with the Bush administration.

On Wednesday, Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon are due to meet US Secretary of State General Colin Powell to update him on the political situation in Northern Ireland.

They will be able to report that after intensive talks at Hillsborough last week, involving the pro-agreement parties and Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish premier Bertie Ahern, that the peace process is not in any imminent danger of collapsing.

David Trimble
David Trimble was upbeat after the Hillsborough talks
On Friday, Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon will attend the St Patrick's Day celebrations in the White House.

With President Bill Clinton gone, the celebrations are expected to be more low-key than in previous years.

But President Bush is keeping to the tradition of accepting a shamrock from Mr Ahern, and is opening the White House for a reception with 250 guests.

Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon are expected to meet Mr Bush and brief him on the Northern Ireland peace process on the fringes of the reception.

Seamus Mallon: First joint meeting with Bush
Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference in Belfast on Tuesday, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he believed the outstanding issues of the political process, including policing, could be resolved.

But he repeated that this would require that the British Government kept its promises on police reform and demilitarisation measures.

Mr Adams said attempts by the British and Irish Governments to make police reform and demilitarisation dependent on IRA decommissioning was a "step backwards".

Commenting on whether it would affect the IRA's stance on putting its weapons beyond use, he said: "That will emerge from the discussions between the IRA representative and the international commission. I couldn't comment on that.

"The issue of decommissioning is entirely a voluntary process, should not be and is not in terms of the Good Friday Agreement a precondition. It has to be an objective of the peace process."

Reacting to the SDLP's assertion after the Hillsborough talks that progress had been made on policing, Mr Adams urged caution, adding the focus must be on securing the proper legislative changes to the Police Act.

'Progress needed in IRA talks'

Earlier on Tuesday, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen said the IRA's discussions with the International Commission on Disarmament must make progress for the sake of the process.

The IRA said in a statement last week that it had resumed contact with the commission, initially be telephone.

Speaking to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra Mr Cowen said: "We need to see serious and meaningful discussions resulting in a positive report from the commission as soon as possible."

He also said he believed agreement was possible on policing before the summer.

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See also:

09 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
'Progress' in NI peace talks
14 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Gaps remain in policing, says SDLP
08 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Talks to revive NI peace process
16 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Differences at the helm of government
15 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
United front cracked over policing
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