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Saturday, November 13, 1999 Published at 00:37 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

Analysis: Trimble's choice

David Trimble: Decision time

By Ireland correspondent David Eades

After 10 longs weeks, most of which has passed in a virtual news blackout, the George Mitchell Review is finally being put to the test.

The talks between the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein have come to a stop - in terms of negotiation at least - and the attention is most firmly fixed on David Trimble.

The Search for Peace
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Link to Decommissioning
The Ulster Unionist leader has already suffered something of a setback as his party's 27 Assembly members failed to offer him the sort of overwhelming endorsement of the 'Mitchell Plan' he needs and possibly expected.

But nor have they dismissed it out of hand and for the next two days, George Mitchell has given the parties time to reflect on what he called the 'magnitude of the decisions they have to make'.

The question, though, is what difference will a couple of days make?

The party's deputy leader, John Taylor, said he had voted against the outline proposals.

"If there was something new," he said, "there would be something to consider. But there is nothing new."

The highest stakes

That would suggest the IRA has still shied away from a firm commitment to decommission its weapons - the single most important demand for the bulk of the Ulster Unionist party.

But there is no reason to believe that anything better is about to emerge for the Ulster Unionists.

The President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, left Stormont on Friday afternoon saying that his party had "made strenuous efforts, taken initiatives, stretched ourselves and our constituency to the limit in a serious and genuine effort to resolve the crisis in the peace process".

The deputy leader of the nationalist party, the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, said he would stake his reputation on the belief that nothing more can come from the negotiations between the parties.

So the best David Trimble and his closest colleagues can do is cajole, encourage and maybe bully Ulster Unionists into accepting the deal on offer.

And if they do not see an overwhelming support mounting for this package, Mr Trimble is left with a tough decision to make.

He could announce that he is prepared to go with the deal and see how many people go with him.

Alternatively Mr Trimble can accept the will of his party is to hang back, continue their insistence on "no guns, no government" and wait to see what effect a rejection of the Mitchell Review has on the peace process itself.

The political stakes get no higher than this.

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