Major talks with Mitchell uncertain

 

DOWNING Street officials last night were uncertain whether, talks would take place in London today between the Prime Minister, Mr John Major, and US Senator George Mitchell. But a concerted effort in London and, Dublin to play down the significance of Senator Mitchell's visit appeared only to fuel speculation, about its purpose.

Mr Major was due to see the chairman of the International Decommissioning Body in London, yesterday. However, Senator Mitchell's flight from Miami was cancelled after a five hour delay and he was finally expected to arrive at Heathrow last night at around midnight.

Senator Mitchell is due to travel to Dublin later today for talks with the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, and is understood to have commitments in New York tomorrow. His primary business in London today is an International Crisis Group meeting to discuss Bosnia. But if a meeting with Mr Major proves impossible today, some sources suggest it might be possible tomorrow before Senator Mitchell's return flight to America.

The New York Times yesterday claimed Senator Mitchell would try to salvage the Northern Ireland peace process "and ease a political problem for President

Clinton".

However, Irish Government sources said the meeting had been arranged prior to the collapse of the IRA ceasefire. One senior Dublin source told The Irish Times: "Any suggestion of a role for Senator Mitchell is premature, to say the least." The source said the challenge was for the two sovereign governments to produce honourable solutions which would bring the parties together.

As the two governments struggle to assemble a new political initiative, there is some speculation among Northern Ireland parties that Senator Mitchell could be invited to chair the international commission on arms disposal envisaged in his own report. And it is believed the idea has been discussed by some of the North's parties with British ministers.

However, the shared view in London and Dublin last night appeared to be that the appointment of such a commission was still some way off. Current British thinking appears to contemplate the appointment of a commission as a primary issue for talks following on from any elections, as proposed by Mr Major in other words, as the starting point for future negotiations.

However, Mr Bruton and Mr Major have high regard for the former senator's political skills and will clearly consider any suggestions he might wish to make.