Britain, Ireland agree on date for all-party N. Ireland peace talks IRA must re-establish cease-fire to participate

February 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Under the shadow of a terrorist threat, Britain and Ireland agreed yesterday that all-party peace talks on Northern Ireland can begin June 10.

The negotiations will follow elections in the British province to name delegates, but can open without further conditions attached, the two governments said.

"The date is fixed. The date will not be changed," Irish Prime Minister John Bruton told reporters. Talks to establish electoral ground rules and the "basis, participation, structure, format and agenda" of the negotiations begin Monday.

For Sinn Fein to join with other political parties in Northern Ireland at talks it has long demanded, the governments said, it must pledge itself to democracy and nonviolence. And the militant Irish Republican Army it represents in the struggle to end British rule in the province must re-establish a cease-fire ended earlier this month with a bombing campaign in London.

In his cautious initial reaction last night, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the fixed date but stopped far short of signing on to the Anglo-Irish plan.

Voicing skepticism of British commitment, Mr. Adams said, "There is a need for absolute clarity on all aspects of these proposals in assessing whether they contain the inherent dynamic to re-establish the peace process."

As Mr. Bruton arrived yesterday to confer with British Prime Minister John Major at a hastily arranged summit, the heart of London around Piccadilly Circus was paralyzed by bomb alerts. Chaos ruled on and under sunlit streets as traffic, pedestrians and subway lines were rerouted.

"Suspicious package," explained a policeman behind Do Not Cross plastic tape as the prime ministers gathered nearby at Downing Street for a working lunch.

Yesterday's initiative was in response to IRA violence that resumed Feb. 9, ending 17 months of cease-fire and threatening full-scale return to a 25-year struggle in which the British capital became a prominent terrorist target.

Manhole covers were welded shut and marksmen lined roofs in London yesterday as Queen Elizabeth and Mr. Major joined 1,200 VIPs at St. Paul's Cathedral to unveil a monument to 47 British servicemen killed in the Persian Gulf war.

In shaping a joint communique from a round of telephone calls and pencil editing over lunch, the two governments each got some of what they had sought in stalled months of the cease-fire.

Ireland won a specific date for talks that it -- like the IRA -- long sought. Britain got the still-undefined election, probably in May, that Mr. Major -- like the pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland -- considers an essential first step. An all-Ireland referendum expressing support for peace could be held that same election day.

In Washington, President Clinton applauded the summons to talks and called on "those who have resorted to violence to heed the voice of the people and cease their campaign of terror."

In a written statement, the president hoped "all the parties will commit themselves to participate fully in the process announced today."

Many key questions remain unanswered. The largest among them is whether Sinn Fein, which has always said it would accept no preconditions, would consider a declaration of democratic principles and a resumed cease-fire acceptable tickets of admission to peace talks.

Until the cease-fire is restored, no ministers from either country will meet Sinn Fein, whose participation in the meetings opening Monday would therefore be limited.

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