LONDON -- Multiparty Irish talks, due to open in Belfast today, were on hold last night because of differences over the location of the crucial next stage, when the Irish government is due to join the peace effort.
Northern Ireland political leaders, who met separately with Britain's Ulster Secretary Peter Brooke last week in preliminary contacts, were to hold a face-to-face session today, the first direct talks between the provincial factions in 17 years.
The deadlock was over where the follow-up round with Dublin officials, later this month or early next, should be held. It forced the Northern Ireland Office in London to announce yesterday: "We are still at the bilateral stage."
Mr. Brooke is anxious to have the location issue resolved before he opens the plenary session of the northern parties. It is the sort of symbolic conflict that has bedeviled Irish politics for two decades.
The Unionists, who have agreed for the first time to talk directly to Irish government ministers about the future of Northern Ireland, still are anxious to avoid any impression of going cap-in-hand to Dublin. They want the talks held in London, the capital to which they are determined to remain connected.
The Social Democratic and Labor Party, which represents the majority of Catholic moderates in the province, prefer that the talks be held in Dublin, the capital to which they feel strong allegiance.
Irish Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey said at the weekend that there was no question of the talks being "in abeyance."
He added: "There are not so much difficulties as issues to be decided, thrashed out and agreed. But I am quite confident we will be able to arrive at successful conclusions to enable the talks to proceed as we envisaged we would."
A senior Irish official said yesterday that the Dublin government was "flexible" on location. The preference was for the talks to be held in Dublin, he said, but "if this is not realistic, we are prepared to look at other options." He said the Irish were willing to consider rotating venues, with the talks perhaps opening in Armagh in Northern Ireland, and then moving between Dublin in Ireland and Belfast in Northern Ireland.