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BBC Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray
"No-one expected agreement here"
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The BBC's Tom Coulter
The shadow of the gun has bedeviled the process
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The BBC's Paul Reynolds in Washington
President Clinton has been using what influence he has
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UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"The way to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland is through the Good Friday agreement"
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The Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
"We're going to make sure that we continue to work and co-operate together"
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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 10:18 GMT
Archbishop's plea on NI peace talks

Trimble leaves Northern Ireland without breakthrough on arms There are wide differences on the arms issue

Ireland's most senior Protestant churchman has urged politicians not to abandon efforts to restart Northern Ireland's peace process which remains deadlocked after crisis meetings at Downing Street.

The call by Church of Ireland primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, follows an attempt by the British and Irish prime ministers to resolve the differences between Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

The Search for Peace
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Link to Decommissioning
But there was no sign of any mechanism emerging to get the parties back into a situation where they could resolve the unionist-republican impasse over arms, following the statement by the IRA that it was breaking off talks on disarmament.

Dr Eames said it was vital for politicians to know that a vast majority of the people of Ireland wanted them to "strive again to find a way forward".

Archbishop Robin Eames: Politicians must keep trying
"People need to see signs that a way towards political stability is not just possible but attainable," he said.

After Wednesday's Downing Street meetings, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern said at a joint press conference that all of the parties had recommitted to the principals of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

Mr Blair acknowledged there had been a "setback" following the IRA's decision to break off talks with the decommissioning commission and the assembly's suspension.

But he said Northern Ireland's eight weeks of devolution had worked, and it could work again "because the people wanted it to work".

Joint effort for progress following Irish concern over suspension Joint effort for progress following Irish concern over suspension
Although Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, who suspended the province's political institutions last week, has said that the peace process will go into review, the details of any review to try to find a way out of the current stalemate have not been worked out.

Mr Blair said only that the parties had been discussing the "parameters of what the problem is and how we can resolve it".

So there may be surprise that Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, the former first minister of the assembly, is leaving Northern Ireland for at least a week to give lectures to students and attend private engagements in the US, in effect pausing the peace process.

There are as yet no public plans for him to meet US President Bill Clinton, but Mr Clinton has been keeping in close telephone contact with the main players.

'Parties need to comply'

Speaking at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday night the President said he did not want to be publicly "judgemental" but he indicated that he has been telling the parties that all of the Good Friday Agreement commitments - including paramilitary decommissioning and progress though political institutions - must be fulfilled.

Bill Clinton: Behind the scenes pressure Bill Clinton: Behind the scenes pressure
He said: "In private I have tried to be straightforward and clear with them but I don't want to say anything that makes it even harder to put this thing back together.

"We have to honour the votes of the people of Northern Ireland.

"We've got to stand these institutions back up and the parties that said they supported the Good Friday accord have got to comply and we have got to find a way to get his done."

The fact that the IRA had not shown any indication it would return to violence was a positive, he added.

As Mr Trimble leaves Northern Ireland, Tory leader William Hague and shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew MacKay will jet into the province to meet the Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan and to speak at an Institute of Directors dinner.

Parties dig in

Although Mr Blair and Mr Ahern were upbeat in their determination to drive the process forward, republicans and unionist positions had not softened as they came out of Downing Street to address the press on Wednesday night.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams Gerry Adams: Gloomy warnings about political vacuum
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams again criticised the government for suspending the assembly, despite a second report by the international decommissioning body which showed an IRA willingness to move on the arms issue.

He warned that Northern Ireland is entering a dangerous "political vacuum" where dissident paramilitaries could pose a greater threat.

"The institutions have been torn down and the Good Friday Agreement has been torn up.

"I do not think we can play a useful role on the arms issue when all we are met with is rejections and rebuttals," he said.

Mr Trimble again insisted the peace process could only progress forward if the IRA moved on decommissioning.

He said: "The ball is still firmly in their court - we have done all that we can do. We stretched ourselves too far."

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See also:
16 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
NI talks deadlocked
16 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA 'halted' return of Assembly
15 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA statement in full
16 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA withdrawal 'not total surprise'
15 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
'Disappointment' at IRA move
11 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
Second De Chastelain report in full

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