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David Eades reports for BBC News
"There would have to be certainty this time"
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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 19:05 GMT
Trimble shift on guns
Clinton and Ahern
President Clinton leaves a St Patrick's Day event with Bertie Ahern
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has said he is willing to accept a fresh power-sharing deal for Northern Ireland which may not involve weapons being delivered first.

But Mr Trimble said any such sequencing would require a clear intent that violence was finished for good and "the war was over".

The Search for Peace
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Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Decommissioning
He told a news conference in Washington that such commitments would have to be followed up by actions.

Clarifying his comments later, Mr Trimble said the actions he envisaged from the IRA would involve the decommissioning of weapons.

He said that, as had been the case in November, his party was prepared to accept a sequencing of events - but now they wanted a certainty that this would involve actual disarmament, as opposed to an expectation.

Meeting Clinton and Adams

Mr Trimble said this represented a firming up of his previous position rather than a relaxation - a change which he said was conditioned because unionists could no longer relay on the good will of the republican movement.

His party, he said, would not do anything which did not involve IRA disarmament.

He said he expected to meet Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and President Bill Clinton later on Friday.

Mr Trimble, along with many other political leaders from Northern Ireland, is in the United States for the St Patrick's Day celebrations.

However, in response to Mr Trimble's comments, hardline Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson said he would be 'astonished' and 'amazed' if the party agreed to go back into government with Sinn Fein without prior decommissioning.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein national chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said the party would be watching to see if Mr Trimble was prepared to repeat his comments on his return from the United States and match words with deeds.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Mr McLaughlin said: "We are entitled to be sceptical. We have to see the colour of his money.

"If David Trimble is saying one thing in the United States and then when he comes back to deal with his party colleagues he is saying a different thing, then really we are no further forward."

Mr McLaughlin said his party colleagues in the US were waiting to see if Mr Trimble would "relay them directly, face-to-face to Gerry Adams".

Earlier on Friday, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, who is also in Washington, said he would consider restoring the power-sharing institutions if the IRA declared the "war was over" and its weapons were "out of circulation".

He said such a declaration could be the basis for negotiation.

'Violence and war behind us'

"It would make a very great contribution if not only the IRA but all the paramilitary organisations said that the use of guns, the resort to violence, will have no place in the future," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson: "One more heave"
Mr Mandelson's call followed an appeal by President Clinton who urged politicians not to miss the chance to create a lasting peace.

At the annual dinner of the American Ireland Fund, he said he was "burdened" by the impasse in the talks.

"We have the chance of a lifetime here", Mr Clinton told an audience which included both Mr Trimble and Mr Adams.

"Whatever the differences, it's not worth another life - not one. It's not worth another day's delay, much less a year."

White House officials are playing down the chances of a breakthrough during the Washington meetings.

The peace process has been in crisis since mid-February, when the UK Government suspended the fledgling Northern Ireland power-sharing assembly, over the IRA's failure to decommission its weapons.

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
St Pat's talks 'no party'
12 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Critical stage in NI process'
08 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
NI talks still unresolved
16 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA 'halted' return of Assembly
15 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Adams: No room to move on arms
16 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Let's get peace process moving - Mandelson
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