Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 13:11 GMT
UK: Northern Ireland
NI peace deal edges closer
George Mitchell: "Close to breaking impasse"
The Northern Ireland peace process is agonisingly close to a major breakthrough, the chairman of the review process has insisted.
His remarks are being seen as the first move in a series of events planned for the next few days, which could bring the much-sought breakthrough.
"In the course of the review the parties have engaged with one another in an unprecedented manner," Mr Mitchell said.
To encourage this, the report being prepared by the international commission on decommissioning would be made public.
In a brief statement later on Monday, as the report was being distributed to the parties, the chairman of the commission, General John de Chastelain, said only: "We do not intend to make any public statements about our assessment. We have a job to do and we are getting on with it."
Mr Mitchell also said that all the parties in the peace process would also be required to state their position publicly.
"I believe that the parties now understand each other's concerns and requirements far better than before and are committed to resolving the current impasse," he said.
The SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party immediately welcomed Mr Mitchell's statement.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he shared Mr Mitchell's "increasing confidence that the review process has the potential to achieve a resolution of the current impasse in the peace process".
But Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble played down hopes of an imminent breakthrough.
"Let's wait and see what the package is, if there is a package, but we must not run ahead of ourselves," he said.
"It ain't over till it is over."
One-off opportunity - Blair
Earlier, Tony Blair expressed his hope of a deal in the Northern Ireland peace process to allow devolution in the province to succeed.
After a months of delays caused by arguments over decommissioning, speculation exists that the IRA might be ready to begin getting rid of at least some of its arms on a voluntary basis if a deal is struck.
The UK prime minister, speaking to the BBC from the Commonwealth meeting in South Africa, played down speculation over an imminent breakthrough but urged the key players to take risks for the future.
"We haven't failed at all yet and I hope we never do," Mr Blair said. "Let us just hope in the next few days that the leadership of David Trimble and people like that, who have shown incredible courage in the last few years, will continue."
He promised the UK Government would do everything it could to help, although the ultimate decisions had to be made by the politicians and people of Northern Ireland.
"The one thing I am convinced of and I think Senator Mitchell has come to the same conclusion is that people in the main parties really do want to make it work."
Guns weeks after government
This would in turn allow the mechanisms of devolution, principally the executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to be set up.
Should decommissioning fail to take place soon afterwards, unionists would expect the deal to collapse - a scenario that would leave Mr Trimble in a potentially impossible position.
In return for taking that risk, unionists would have the expectation of IRA disarmament within days of the new year starting, if they back the current deal on the table.