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Major, Bruton plead for new IRA cease-fire


But they still disagree about talks date

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December 9, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- The prime ministers of Britain and Ireland called Monday for the Irish Republican Army to announce a new cease-fire, but the two leaders disagreed on how soon the IRA's political representatives could join in peace talks.

"We are united in wishing to see a credible cease-fire," Major said outside 10 Downing Street after nearly five hours of talks with his Irish counterpart, John Bruton.

But Major added: "I don't wish to speculate on whether a particular date is possible for Sinn Fein to join the talks." Bruton said he looked forward to Sinn Fein joining talks early in the new year.

The IRA's political wing has been shut out of multi-party talks that began in Belfast last June because of an IRA bombing in February that broke a 17-month cease-fire.

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said Monday that any new IRA cease-fire could not be permanent, as Britain demands, but would offer a window of opportunity.

"Everyone with an ounce of common sense knows that if we get a cease-fire, that creates only the opportunity for those who want peace to consolidate it and to make it permanent," McLaughlin said.

Rebellion against Major ...

Monday's long-scheduled Anglo-Irish summit came as Major faced a growing rebellion within the ranks of his own Conservative Party. So-called "Euroskeptics" within the party threaten to withdraw support if Britain concedes to the European Union on issues such as a single currency.

Against that backdrop, and with the loss of his parliamentary majority, Major desperately needs the backing of the Ulster Unionist politicians from Northern Ireland's Protestant community.

... could have impact on peace bid


But it's a scenario that leaves Major with little maneuvering room because the Unionists -- Protestants who want to maintain Northern Ireland's links with Britain -- tend to side with the Euroskeptic faction, said Brendan O'Duffy of the London School of Economics.

Last week, the British government effectively rejected an IRA cease-fire proposal by setting new preconditions instead. The move was widely seen as a conciliatory gesture to the Unionists.

Political analysts say the IRA is unlikely to agree to any preconditions for a cease-fire set by the British government until after a general election, which must take place before next May. Then they'll know exactly which British government they'll be dealing with.

Correspondent Margaret Lowrie and Reuters contributed to this report.


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