Belfast Telegraph: "

US envoy still hopeful of deal
Ambassador tells of latest 'ideas'

By Chris Thornton, Political Correspondent
16 December 2004

Sinn Fein and the DUP remain committed to completing a political deal in spite of the fallout from the deadlock over photographic proof of IRA decommissioning, American envoy Mitchell Reiss said today.

After meeting the parties and the British and Irish governments at Hillsborough yesterday, Ambassador Reiss said he has no doubts about the willingness to complete the deal that stalled last week over the IRA's refusal to allow photographs of an arms disposal.

And he repeated the British and Irish governments' view that photographs remain part of the formula to resolve the situation, despite Sinn Fein's position that the issue is "dead and gone and buried in Ballymena".

Ambassador Reiss, who was continuing discussions with Irish officials in Dublin today, told the Belfast Telegraph that photographs remain the central issue. He said other concerns that have arisen - including the missing IRA pledge on criminality - have not become deal-breakers.

The US envoy said some "interesting ideas" were discussed at Hillsborough, and a deal remains "very close".

"Everybody at Hillsborough came with a broad agenda," he said. "Some people had some constructive ideas. Other people were a bit more critical of the deal, but I think if there was a theme that transcended political partisanship, it was that everybody wants a deal to get done, and to get it done as soon as possible.

"We're going to continue working on this," he said. "At this point, we're entertaining all things that can contribute to finishing this deal.

"Photos are clearly the key issue right now.There are concerns about other aspects of the agreement. That's understandable, but I don't think there are any deal-breakers there.

"So I think we're very close. I think that people should focus on the larger picture in terms of how far we've come. The distance, not just since Leeds Castle, but especially from last year".

He described the stalled deal as a "significant accomplishment" because it had closed down long-standing issues of concern.

"It's understandable that people focus on the divides that remain to be bridged," he said, "but let's not overlook all the issues that have been settled ? the fact that Sinn Fein have sat down with Hugh Orde, the fact that we're talking about full IRA decommissioning now, it's just the modalities that are up for debate.

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