With Finish in Sight, N. Ireland Peace Deal Stumbles

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Trust, especially after you've been fighting for generations, requires a leap of faith, and in Northern Ireland nobody appears quite ready to jump. Just days before a Wednesday deadline to come up with the power-sharing framework for a Protestant-Catholic government, talks are stalling. At issue is the same question left unanswered in last year's historic peace agreement: When to get rid of the guns. Northern Ireland's first minister, David Trimble, and the Unionists insist that before their old adversaries in Sinn Fein can enter the new government it must persuade its military wing, the IRA, to begin disarming. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams says the peace agreement does not specifically require disarmament as a precondition to taking seats in the government (which is technically true), and they're not going to do anything they don't have to.

Neither side is budging, even for a compromise plan engineered by British prime minister Tony Blair that would put the IRA on a fixed disarmament timetable in return for Sinn Fein's immediate entry into the government. Could this be a deal-breaker for the region's best hope for peace of the last 30 years? Blair and Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern tried to head that off in talks Monday, to little effect.