Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has told the BBC he has been meeting loyalist paramilitary leaders since the autumn of last year.
Sir Reg was interviewed for the BBC's Inside Politics programme
It was an effort to persuade them to abandon violence, he said.
Sir Reg told the BBC that the UDA and UVF were at different stages in their internal consultations.
He said the main unionist parties "had a special responsibility to persuade the loyalist paramilitaries to commit to purely peaceful means".
Sir Reg made his comments in an interview for the BBC's Inside Politics programme ahead of his first speech to the Ulster Unionist Council's annual general meeting since becoming leader nine months ago.
"We are trying to create circumstances where there is sufficient confidence in that community to move away from the old ways," he said.
"To be committed to exclusively peaceful means, to focus on community activity in local areas, to recognise that one cannot go on as one has been doing with rackets, with drugs and other activities - that has to stop."
In January, an Independent Monitoring Commission report said the UDA and its members had continued to undertake targeting, shootings and assaults.
On the UVF, it said: "It remains a continuing and serious threat to the rule of law and our previous phrase - active, violent and ruthless - still applies to it."
Meanwhile, the UUP elected former Coleraine councillor John White as their new party president at Saturday's meeting.
Outgoing president Lord Rogan decided not to stand for re-election.