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Northern Ireland peace broker George Mitchell:
Distrust between parties to blame for current difficulties
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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 12:34 GMT
Mitchell blames lack of trust

george mitchell
George Mitchell: Involved in peace process for five years

Northern Ireland peace-broker George Mitchell has revealed he is not surprised at the latest setback to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Mitchell chaired the talks leading to the establishment at the beginning of December of the power-sharing executive, which was suspended over the arms issue just nine weeks later.

During an interview on Irish radio in which he repeated his intention not to return to help resolve the current deadlock, the former US senator blamed the distrust between the parties for the current crisis.

"I do not believe there was trust, I do not believe there is trust," he said.

"I do believe there is a recognition, an acknowledgement of the common purpose of the participants to gain implementation of the agreement and of the difficulties that each faces, in particular that the other side faces."

Asked about present developments, Mr Mitchell said his only motive had been to be helpful and, after discussions with both governments, he had concluded that immersing himself in "the blame game" would make the task of the Irish and UK governments even more difficult.

"I think it best if I do not get involved in that level of specificity about current efforts to move the process forward," said Mr Mitchel.

In a message to paramilitary groups, he added: "The use of violence will not solve the political problems of Northern Ireland, it will only make them worse."

Ian Paisley Junior:Belfast Agreement is over
His decision not to return was seen by Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Ian Paisley Junior as a signal that the Good Friday Agreement was on the brink of collapse.

"It signals that the agreement itself is in dire straits, so much so that the almighty Mr Mitchell could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.

"It was not about getting rid of weapons but it was about getting Sinn Fein into government," added Mr Paisley, whose party has a strong anti-agreement position.

"The Belfast Agreement is over - it is time to start considering, without outside interference, a workable alternative to this failed accord."

Mr Mitchell said his primary reason not to return to Northern Ireland was family-related.

"I have made it clear that while I am very deeply committed to the people and the cause there, I have now been involved for nearly five years, and I simply have to devote some time to my family and to my business. I have to work to earn a living."

This is the second time that the former US senator has declared he does not intend to re-involve himself in the fraught efforts to rescue the peace process.

During January, he told a US magazine that he would not be returning as pressure appeared to increase for him to take a central role in talks yet again.

He said he was keeping a close watch on ongoing events and a "large part" of his heart would remain in Northern Ireland.

"I feel very discouraged every time there is a set-back and hope and pray for it to go forward."

Absence of trust

Mr Mitchell proposes to maintain links with Northern Ireland where he has been elected as the Chancellor of Queen's University in Belfast.

He attended graduation ceremonies last year and is expected to return again to the university and to carry out a series of engagements this summer.

Mr Mitchell is also involved in a charitable foundation which he recently launched in Belfast.
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See also:
04 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
'Mitchell will not chair talks'
04 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
NI peace process hangs in balance
03 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
NI arms crisis deepens
27 Aug 99 |  Profiles
George Mitchell: Patient man of peace
22 Sep 99 |  Northern Ireland
Mitchell talks session 'honest and straight'
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