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26 June 1997 Edition

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Sinn Féin to study decommissioning proposals

British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday announced new proposals which he said were designed to handle the issue of decommissioning and thus facilitate progress to substantive negotiations.

The proposals were agreed with the Dublin government at the start of the week and given to talks chairperson George Mitchell for presentation to the parties at Stormont on Wednesday. The proposals were along the lines of the Report of the International Body (the Mitchell Report) which was effectively binned by John Major last year. However there were differing interpretations of whether actual decommissioning of weapons would be required during talks. After meeting Blair on Tuesday morning Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble said there would have to evidence of physical handover of weapons before Sinn Féin could enter substantive negotiations.

In his House of Commons speech Blair also outlined the contents of an aide memoire sent by the British government to Sinn Féin on 13 June. This addressed four key issues raised by Sinn Féin - the party's entry to talks, the need for confidence-building measures, decommissioning and the timeframe for negotiations. On entry it said that the British government would make its judgement on Sinn Féin qualification for entry within six weeks of an IRA cessation; on decommissioning there was a one-paragraph summary of the paper on decommissioning; confidence-building measures were dealt with in general terms and a target date of May 1998 has been set for the conclusion of negotiations.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on Wednesday evening said that Sinn Féin will give the proposals by the two governments ``our fullest attention and consideration''.

The Sinn Féin President welcomed the proposal by the two governments to ``remove decommissioning as an obstacle to the commencement of the substantive negotiations''. However he expressed concern that the decommissioning issue will become a block to the negotiation of the substantive issues further down the road. He noted that the ``two governments have committed themselves to ensuring that this will not happen and that decommissioning can be addressed without blocking the negotiations.''

The full statement from Gerry Adams reads:

``As Sinn Féin has already acknowledged this British government has taken up positions which are an advance on those of the last government.

``The Aide Memoire addressed in varying degrees, the four issues which are central to the creation of a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations. Clarity and detail are of course still necessary on these matters. Presumably, these can be provided without further delay.

``We will give the proposals published today by the two governments our fullest attention and consideration and we welcome the proposal by the two governments to remove decommissioning as an obstacle to the commencement of the substantive negotiations.

``Having said that I remain deeply concerned that the decommissioning issue will become a block to the negotiation of the substantive issues further down the road. We are informed that the two governments have committed themselves to ensuring that this will not happen and that decommissioning can be addressed without blocking the negotiations.

``If this is the case there needs to be a clear understanding of how the British government intends to do this. This is my primary concern.

``The situation on prisoners and on a whole range of issues of democratic and civil rights, which effect the day to day lives of nationalists, also requires urgent attention. This is critical at this time to building confidence.

``In his speech Mr Blair gave his view of the outline of a political settlement. I want to state very firmly that this is certainly not Sinn Féin's view and not we are sure the view of other parties to the talks.''
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