Bullish on Talks in Belfast NORTHERN IRELAND PEACE

Article excerpt

The quest for peace in Northern Ireland is getting under way again in an atmosphere of hope tempered by realism.

The hope is strong enough, analysts say, to fuel determination by London and Dublin that Wednesday's rejection by Ulster Unionists of an initial formula for disarming terrorists must not be allowed to be the end of the story.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam and Irish Foreign Minister Ray Burke are making it clear that they will not let the Protestant Unionists' tough stand block the way for all-party peace talks set for Sept. 15. Ms. Mowlam declared Wednesday that the Unionists' hostility to a plan to allow the Irish Republican Army to decommission its weapons while peace talks continue would not deflect her from her pursuit of a settlement. Previously, the IRA would have had to turn over all weapons before its political wing, Sinn Fein, was allowed to join the talks. She and Mr. Burke plan to meet next Tuesday to discuss ways of overcoming the apparent deadlock. In a joint statement Wednesday, they said the meeting would be "to begin the necessary preparations for the start of substantive negotiations." The statement added, with a note of defiance: "The talks process goes on." Since the IRA renewed its cease-fire last weekend, the initial optimism triggered by the move has been put into perspective by the reaction of Unionist politicians. On Wednesday, all Unionist parties voted down the decommissioning formula. But Mowlam and Burke are drawing hope from the decision of the official Ulster Unionist Party to stay in the talks. David Trimble, the party leader, parted company with the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the radical Democratic Unionist Party, and Robert McCartney, who heads the small UK Unionist Party, both of whom quit the talks. An adviser to Mowlam said the split within the Unionist movement "offers grounds for hope." Mowlam and Burke appear to believe that, as the IRA cease-fire takes hold and arrangements for decommissioning terrorist weapons are clarified, the fears of hard-line Unionists will begin to melt. …