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The BBC's David Shukman in South Armagh
"The army is watching the fallout from the deadlock in the peace process"
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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 15:02 GMT
St Pat's talks 'no party'
Peter Mandelson was speaking at Hillsborough castle
Peter Mandelson was speaking at Hillsborough castle
The Northern Ireland secretary of state has said he believes real business can be done in Washington when politicians hold discussions on the deadlocked peace process.

Representatives from the British and Irish governments and many of the parties will be in United States for the St Patrick's Day celebrations on 17 March.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Sinn Fein
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Decommissioning
The Northern Ireland peace process has been stalled after devolution was suspended after just 11 weeks.

Mr Mandelson suspended the Stormont assembly and executive in February after there was political deadlock over the absence of any handover of IRA weapons.

Speaking on Monday at Hillsborough castle, Mr Mandelson said he believed the trip would be more than just a 'party'.

He said: "I am going there to have some very serious discussions with all the people, representatives of all the parties who will be present there.

"I think it is very important. People expect their political representatives not to go away and have a party but to go away and address what it a very serious situation."

The leader of the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is also going to Washington.

But when he comes back he could face a leadership challenge from a Good Friday Agreement opponent at his party's annual general meeting.

The party has been divided on the way forward over the stalled Northern Ireland peace process.

Craigavon councillor Jonathan Bell, who is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, could be the most likely candidate to stand against Mr Trimble on 25 March.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said the deadlocked peace process is at its most critical stage.

Addressing a rally of several hundred republicans in west Belfast on Sunday he said the process was entering a new phase.

But Mr Adams also repeated his party's call for the reinstatement of Northern Ireland's suspended political institutions.

The Sinn Fein leader said he wanted to "offer unionists the hand of friendship" but that they had "used their veto to derail the peace process".

The rally was one of a series being held to highlight Sinn Fein's view that the British government allowed unionists to "veto the peace process".

The party believe Mr Mandelson suspended the assembly during the arms decommissioning impasse to solely to prevent Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble's resignation.

Australian visit

Meanwhile speaking in Australia the Irish Prime Minister has called on the British government to scale down its military presence in Northern Ireland.

Bertie Ahern: Need to reinstate assembly
Bertie Ahern: Need to reinstate assembly
Addressing members of the Australia-Ireland fund during a visit to Melbourne on Sunday Bertie Ahern said everyone, including the British and Irish governments, had an absolute obligation to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

"It would make an immense contribution to confidence-building if the public could feel assured that every organisation that was involved in the Northern Ireland conflict accepts that a return to an armed campaign is not an option," he said.

"But all of us, not least the two governments, have an absolute obligation to ensure that all aspects of the (Good Friday) Agreement are implemented in full.

"This includes the de-escalation of military dispositions by the security forces as provided for in the agreement, especially in certain border areas such as south Armagh, where they are still a source of harassment and annoyance."

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble may face leadership challenge
12 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Critical stage in NI process'
09 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Assembly may be back by Easter'
08 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
NI talks still unresolved
26 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Demonstrations against assembly suspension
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