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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November, 2004, 02:33 GMT
Bush offers NI process support
Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley said he had a long conversation with Mr Bush
US president George W Bush has offered his support to efforts to achieve a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland political process.

Mr Bush telephoned DUP leader Ian Paisley on Friday.

It came as Sinn Fein and the DUP were receiving the governments' responses to their queries over the British-Irish joint proposals aimed at restoring devolution.

Mr Paisley said he had a "long and very useful conversation" with Mr Bush, who has not taken as big a role in Northern Ireland as his predecessor Bill Clinton.

"I told him I'd like to be in a position to make a deal, but that any deal must be fair and must address to my satisfaction and my electorate's satisfaction all the fundamental issues that have blocked progress for so long," said Mr Paisley.


"I told him that we must build a solid foundation in order to move forward.

"I reminded the president of the fact that he would not have terrorists in his government, and that we must be satisfied that IRA terrorism is over and cannot return."

More details have emerged on British-Irish proposals to deal with the demand for visible decommissioning.

Talks sources suggest that by the end of December, General de Chastelain could report that all IRA weapons have been "put beyond use".

Decommissioning pictures would be held until March
Photographic proof of this would be held by the head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning until March.

There would then be a new power-sharing executive.

The two governments have said they are ready to publish their proposals if the parties do not sign up to a deal.

The DUP's executive met for three hours on Friday evening and gave Dr Paisley its unanimous backing as he enters the final phase of negotiations.

Dr Paisley said afterwards that "obstacles" remained, but announced he would be meeting the head of the International Decommissioning body on Monday to discuss the possibility of IRA disarmament.

The DUP leader is expected to meet Tony Blair on Tuesday, by which stage the British and Irish governments want Sinn Fein and the DUP to have decided whether to sign up to a new power-sharing deal.

Speaking on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Friday, President Bush said he had sought to get Sinn Fein and the DUP "to the table to get a deal done to close the agreement they'd been working on for a while".

The Associated Press also reported Mr Bush said he would do "everything I can do to help keep the process moving forward".

Speaking at a news conference in Belfast on Friday afternoon, Mr Adams said he had not yet studied the governments' response.

"There is still some work to be done," he said.

An "historic deal" was possible, but it needed political will, he said.

"That is a huge challenge for all of us, but particularly a huge challenge for the DUP."

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams said there was still some work to be done

However, he added: "We haven't gone to the IRA - why haven't we gone to the IRA? - we haven't gone to the IRA because we don't have a comprehensive package.

"As far as we are concerned, all of these issues will be issues for that organisation to decide. As far as us as a political party are concerned, the arms issue should be dealt with under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which means the de Chastelain commission."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said this weekend would be a very crucial one for the political process.

Speaking in County Donegal on Friday, he said he and Tony Blair finalised their reply to the issues raised by the DUP and Sinn Fein on Thursday night.

Mr Ahern said the governments would be in touch with the parties over the weekend or on Monday.

Mr Paisley is to meet Tony Blair in London on Tuesday to give him his party's response to the latest British-Irish proposals.

The party's assembly members met on Friday afternoon to consider answers from the government to 43 questions they raised about the proposals.

DUP negotiators are expected to meet over the weekend to consider the government answers in more detail.

Insiders have told the BBC that the proposals from the two governments are very clear: if a deal is done, then, by the end of this year General de Chastelain would report that all IRA weapons have been put beyond use.

This would open the door to a shadow assembly at the start of January.

Two churchmen - agreed by the DUP and republicans - would witness the acts of decommissioning.

Sources say that under the governments' proposals, photographs would be taken, but would not be published immediately.

We are closer than we have ever been
Jeffrey Donaldson
It is not yet known how much of this will be agreed to by the parties, although the DUP is saying no deal will be made without photographs.

BBC Northern Ireland security editor Brian Rowan added that "nothing was coming from republicans at this time to suggest that the IRA has agreed to this proposal".

A Sinn Fein spokesman said that republicans were not the sources of these reports and were unhappy about them.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would not go into government with republicans unless transparent decommissioning had taken place.

Mr Donaldson added that he was confident they would reach agreement on the issue.

"We are closer than we have ever been. We are hopeful that we can close the outstanding issues, but we're not there yet," he said.

"I have to say that on the issue of 'no guns, no government' ... we have made significant progress on that front and I believe that we can close the gap."

At the conclusion of intensive political talks at Leeds Castle in Kent in September, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern said the thorny issues of IRA disarmament and future paramilitary activity appeared to be resolved.

But, the two governments were unable to get the Northern Ireland Assembly parties to sign up to a deal over power-sharing after unionists and nationalists clashed over future devolved institutions.

BBC NI's Brian Rowan:
"More details have emerged on British-Irish proposals to deal with the demand for visible decommissioning"






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