White House urges NI parties to reach agreement

Haass warns against absolutism in intense push for Northern deal today

US diplomat Richard Haass with Meghan O’Sullivan, vice-chairwoman of the Northern Ireland talks. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

US diplomat Richard Haass with Meghan O’Sullivan, vice-chairwoman of the Northern Ireland talks. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Mon, Dec 30, 2013, 01:00

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass has warned that parties adopting absolutist positions on parading, flags and the past will prevent a deal being achieved in intense talks today.

Dr Haass, who arrived back in Northern Ireland on Saturday with the vice-chairwoman of the talks, Dr Meghan O’Sullivan, is beginning talks at 10am today with the goal of reaching agreement sometime later today or tonight.

While other deadlines in this process have slipped and notwithstanding the fact that midnight on New Year’s Eve is the actual deadline, Dr Haass made clear that he believes the negotiations are reaching exhaustion point. “At some point we have got to fish or cut bait: that time has come,” he said on Saturday.

His point was reinforced by US president Barack Obama’s administration yesterday. The White House in a statement said the talks had reached a critical juncture. “We call upon the leadership of the five parties to make the compromises necessary to conclude an agreement now, one that would help heal the divisions that continue to stand between the people of Northern Ireland and the future they deserve,” said spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Political will
“Initiating these talks demonstrated the commitment of the parties and people of Northern Ireland to move forward on tough issues. We are confident that a solution can be reached if there is political will on all sides,” she added.

Dr Haass held a number of bilateral meetings with the parties yesterday while there was also some engagement between the parties. The US diplomat and Dr O’Sullivan were due to present a sixth draft of proposals to the parties last night.

There appeared to be political consensus that considerable progress has been made on the three issues. In brief, current proposals include “parking” the flags issue while a commission on identity, culture and tradition is established to address this and other related matters.

It is also proposed to replace the Parades Commission with a new body and has suggested a single investigative body is established to deal with Troubles-related killings.

 

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