White House to host new talks on stalled process

 

HAVING maintained a stony silence about the British reaction to the Mitchell report on Wednesday, the White House will this week enter into a series of discussions with all sides to help to advance the situation again.

The aim of administration officials in the talks will be to "try to help dig everyone out of the hole that the British dug them into" with the new precondition of elections, one informed source said.

Northern Ireland Office minister Mr Michael Ancram is in Washington today and tomorrow for meetings with senior administration officials, and the Sinn Fein leader, Mr Gerry Adams, arrives on Wednesday.

Hard on their heels will come the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, and the Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble. The Alliance leader, Dr John Alderdice, is also expected in the US later in the month.

On the day of its publication, President Clinton welcomed the report of Senator Mitchell and his two colleagues, Gen John de Chastelain and Mr Harri Holkeri, and encouraged all the parties to use the report to advance the peace process.

From the wording of his statement, however, it is unclear whether the White House expected the report would in itself be sufficient to lead to all party talks, referring to it only as a "tool". Mr Clinton said: "Together with the political track, I believe it will be a valuable tool for the British and Irish governments as they work to reach the goal of all party talks.".

It is believed, nevertheless, that the White House was "blind sided" by the blunt reaction of the British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, to the report, when he made elections a new precondition for all party talks.

US officials will have to assess whether this was partly aimed at reducing the United States role in the peace process.

The commitment by the British and Irish governments to aim for all party talks by the end of February was made at the 11th hour on the eve of Mr Clinton's visit to Britain and both parts of Ireland.

This helped create a climate in which Mr Clinton, during his high profile visit, could praise Mr Major effusively for his role in the peace process and encourage US officials to the view that their intense diplomacy before the visit, had made all party talks a reality.

"The British have wanted to show Washington that it is they who control the process, the source said.

Washington has placed great store on the British and Irish governments working together and the current mood of distrust of London in Dublin Government ranks makes the White House task more sensitive.

Before the report came out, however, senior administration officials, echoed British concerns that all party talks must include the Ulster Unionists and they emphasised the importance of Mr Trimble's role in such talks.

Mr Adams will arrive in Washington on Wednesday evening at the start of a four day visit. He is expected to state forcefully the nationalist objections to the election idea and the failure to move to talks when he meets White House officials Mr Anthony Lake and Ms Nancy Soderberg, probably on Thursday.

He will travel on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a fund raising event at the weekend.