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Saturday, November 13, 1999 Published at 11:17 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

Trimble issues talks warning

David Trimble(right): Process is more robust than we think

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has warned there may not be a breakthrough when the deadlocked Northern Ireland peace talks resume on Monday.

But he said the process was robust enough to survive if a breakthrough wasn't achieved when the adjourned talks re-open at Stormont.

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"People should not regard Monday, next week, or next month as make or break for this process," said Mr Trimble.

"This process is a lot more robust. We should remember how far we've come and how far paramilitaries have come, yet they still have some way to go.

"I hope they can do it," he said.

Former US senator George Mitchell adjourned the talks on Friday to allow the parties a time for reflection over the weekend.

The adjournment was announced at lunchtime on Friday following a day of confusing reports about the unionist stance regarding a deal tabled by Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein negotiators expressed their anger following reports that the Ulster Unionist assembly team had rejected the deal after a meeting lasting only 20 minutes.

Mr Trimble's comments came on a day Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson is understood to have offered to speak to Ulster Unionist constituency associations in an effort to sell them the deal tabled by republicans.

The move is part of a behind the scenes effort to sell the package on offer from Sinn Fein to grass roots unionists.

[ image: Peter Mandelson: Offered to sell deal to unionist grassroots]
Peter Mandelson: Offered to sell deal to unionist grassroots
Sources close to Mr Mandelson said on Saturday he would only venture into the unionist heartlands if invited by associations to address them.

He would provide assurances over IRA decommissioning - the main sticking point holding up unionist support for the package which could pave the way to the establishment of a devolved power-sharing administration in Belfast.

However some senior Ulster Unionists say they need more than assurances. They want a "plan B" included in any deal.

This would allow the ministerial executive to continue without Sinn Fein if there was no IRA guns hand-over rather than be totally suspended.

Mr Mandelson's offer to intervene has been critiscised by the Alliance Party deputy leader Seamus Close.

Mr Close said the Secretary of State should wait until he was asked as people in Northern Ireland did not like such a "Big Brother" approach.

A prominent anti-Good Friday Agreement Ulster Unionist says David Trimble is unhappy with the offer tabled by Sinn Fein and will go back to the talks to get further concessions when they resume on Monday.

[ image: John Taylor: Sinn Fein proposals contain
John Taylor: Sinn Fein proposals contain "nothing new"
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I was at a meeting of party officers last night and Mr Trimble told us he was continuing the negotiations to try to get what Unionists were looking for.

"So he was not happy with what was on offer and the discussion continue."

Mr Trimble is expected to put the deal on offer to his party's 900-strong ruling Ulster Unionist Council for consideration.

A council meeting is understood to have been pencilled in for 27 November, giving Mr Trimble time to sell the deal while continuing to seek clarification and more assurances in the talks, which resume on Monday.

Leadership needed - Adams'

. On Saturday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams called on republicans not to underestimate the challenges facing unionism.

During the party's national women's conference in Dublin, he said some unionists had faced up these challenges with courage.

But he added: "The leadership itself has to be for change. "It has to be prepared to give political leadership in a way that is totally different from the leaderships of the past.

"The leadership of the UUP may resent me for saying this. They may feel that I am patronising them but I think I have a right to say this because I am not asking them to do anything that the Sinn Fein leadership has not done."

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