Mitchell Tries to Reboot N. Ireland Peace Talks

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The only words of comfort Senator George Mitchell could offer on the disintegration of the Northern Ireland peace deal were those of the seen-it-all-before marriage counselor: This was never going to be easy. Mitchell vowed Thursday to press on with his attempts to revive the peace process, saying he hadnít been so naÔve as to expect a smooth implementation of last yearís historic Good Friday Agreement. "I am not surprised, but I am disappointed," said Mitchell, after holding meetings in Belfast with Northern Irelandís political parties. His job got a lot harder overnight, following an IRA statement that not only dimmed hopes of imminent disarmament but actually contained veiled threats of renewed violence, and also blamed the collapse of the peace process on Britain for failing to stand up to the Ulster Unionists. The Unionists had brought the process crashing to a halt last week by refusing to join the new Northern Ireland Assembly before the IRA begins decommissioning its weapons.

"The Unionists have said thereís no assembly because the IRA hasnít started decommissioning its weapons, and the IRA is saying itís not going to decommission its weapons because thereís no assembly," says TIME London correspondent Helen Gibson. "Thatís forced them to bring back George Mitchell and start all over again." After a month of meeting the parties, Mitchell will begin a formal review process on September 6, based on the principles adopted last year: an inclusive self-rule assembly, and internationally monitored disarmament by May 2000. And like any good marriage counselor, heíll start by reminding them of why they signed on in the first place Ė- and hope that the alternative remains too ghastly to contemplate.