British, Irish premiers make progress in N. Ireland talks
Blair, Ahern meet again Friday
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April 2, 1998
Web posted at: 10:02 p.m. EST (0302 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- The British and Irish prime ministers plan to meet again Friday after making "some progress" in talks Thursday night. The progress came amid deepening differences between Protestant leaders from Northern Ireland and the Irish government to the south.
Adding further concern was the interception Thursday of a huge car bomb that was on its way to Britain.
A British government spokeswoman said the 40 minutes of after-dinner talk between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, touched on a number of areas of disagreement between the two governments, including policing and the powers of new cross-border institutions.
"The talks were useful and some progress was made," the spokeswoman said. "The government is looking forward to further talks over the next day and a half." She said the two would meet again Friday.
Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for Blair told reporters there
was no reason for "doom and gloom" and said Blair told his cabinet that he was still cautiously optimistic.
The spokesman also denied there was a problem over the issue of cross-border institutions to link Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, a key demand for both Dublin and Catholics in the north. The pro-British unionist parties in Northern Ireland oppose giving such bodies executive powers.
"The two prime ministers are getting down to detailed discussions of points of difficulty," the spokesman said, adding there would be "all sorts of ups and downs" before the talks reach the April 9 deadline.
"We are determined to get this done within the deadline,"
Bomb among largest found in Ireland
In the south Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire, British
anti-terrorist police seized a BMW Thursday that contained 980 pounds (445 kilograms) of explosives, detonators and a timer. The driver, who is from Kildare, west of Dublin, was arrested.
The homemade bomb, found while the car waited to board a
ferry to the Welsh port of Holyhead, was one of the largest ever found in Ireland, according to a police official.
Police said they don't know the intended target of the
bomb, but it was clearly somewhere in Britain. Some newspaper reports suggested it was en route to the Aintree racecourse, which hosts the annual Grand National horse race Saturday. Others suggested the London venue for a conference of Asian and European leaders.
Police in both Ireland and Northern Ireland linked the bomb to the operations of the Continuity IRA, one of several dissident guerrilla groups opposed to the peace talks.
The last guerrilla bombs to explode in Britain were planted
by the IRA, which has since called a cease-fire so that its Sinn Fein party can participate in the Belfast negotiations.
Two other car bombs were detonated earlier this year by dissidents in predominantly Protestant parts of Northern Ireland. And in January, four people were arrested after 1.65 tons of explosives were found near Dublin. The media linked that haul to a new republican group called the 32-County Sovereignty Committee.
No 'ad hoc chat shows'
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney congratulated the
police on discovering the bomb.
"Unfortunately, there are still people who want to hijack
the process, who believe in winning their way through violence, through terrorism, through death and destruction, and they are not going to succeed," she said.
But if the rhetoric is any indication, the prospects for a successful peace agreement seem remote.
Earlier in the day, Ahern said his government had offered all the compromises it intended to offer. He said Blair and Protestant leaders had to understand "that my compromises have completed" and that they must deliver compromises in return.
"If that's the case, we can do business," he said. "If that's not the case, we cannot." Ahern said he was "not in the business of negotiating" unless the cross-border councils were to be executive institutions and not just "ad hoc chat shows."
Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews, who leads his government's negotiating team, said he thought it wasn't "asking too much" of Protestant leaders "to be willing to equip the north-south body with satisfactory and meaningful powers."
'Quite impossible,' Trimble says
But David Trimble, leader of the largest pro-British Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, called the Irish government's position "quite impossible."
"In recent days, the Irish have hardened their position on
these matters and done so in a quite unrealistic way," he said. "What we have seen from the Irish government in the last couple of days is posturing, and the sooner it ends the better. Until it ends, then real progress is being delayed."
"Far from hardening our position," Andrews responded, "I think it's fair to say we have been flexible and forthcoming in our negotiating stance."
He said his government was determined to complete the
negotiations by April 9 and would spare no effort to bridge the remaining differences.
Andrews said he expected former U.S. Senator George
Mitchell, chairman of the peace talks that opened last
September, to put together a synthesis paper by Friday and then keep the talks in session over the weekend.