Belfast Telegraph

Photos still the sticking point on arms
PMs set to call time on talks

By Brian Walker, London Editor
02 December 2004

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern will call "time" on the intensive negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein in London early next week without having any real inkling of the outcome, Downing Street admits.

After 11 weeks of talks since the Leeds Castle conference, deadlock persists over the sequence of events linking a new power-sharing government with the end of the IRA as an active paramilitary organisation.

The immediate sticking point remains over Ian Paisley's demand to view photographs of IRA arms disposal mooted for later this month, at almost the same time as the decommissioning act itself - and before the DUP agrees to forming the Executive.

Sinn Fein refuse to let him see the photographs until they are clear the DUP accepts power-sharing.

This would come only when the British Government triggers the six-week countdown to the election of the First and Deputy First Ministers, which Sinn Fein wants to happen in January.

Sinn Fein believes Mr Paisley had actually "raised the bar" over viewing the photographs last week.

The two prime ministers will call it "one way or the other" on Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday, after Mr Paisley presents Mr Blair with the DUP's "final paper" on Monday.

Will Mr Blair and Mr Ahern try to get both sides to soften their incompatible positions? Downing Street insists that they will put no pressure on either on them, clearly believing any such attempt would be counterproductive.

After a one and a half hour session with the Prime Minister yesterday, Gerry Adams declared Sinn Fein had "made their final representations".

"In my opinion these discussions can go no further - it is now time for a decision," he said.

At this very late stage in the day, the prospects for reaching a deal next week looked uncertain.

At a Sinn Fein meeting in Navan, Co Meath, last night, Mr Adams denounced the DUP's stance as unacceptable to Sinn Fein.

"The parties have to vote for the election of the joint office of First and Deputy First Minister.

"At this point in the negotiations, one of the most important issues is the DUP's refusal to do this," he said.

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