Now For the Hard Part

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland: Now that the IRA has declared a ceasefire, British and Irish government officials hope to convince Protestant leaders to sit at the bargaining table with Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally. Talks are set to begin in mid-September, when a six-week verification period intended to test the IRA's commitment to the cease-fire ends. But even if the group keeps its guns under wraps, key pro-British Protestants have said they will not negotiate with Sinn Fein. Protestants from the United Kingdom Unionist Party walked out of the site of the talks at Stormont on Monday when a Sinn Fein delegation arrived for preliminary discussions. "We will not negotiate with anyone who supports violence and who are associated with any group which retained the means of inflicting violence upon others for the attainment of political objectives," party leader Robert McCartney said. The IRA adamantly refuses to meet the Protestant demand that it unconditionally disarm itself. While this sticking point may ruin yet another truce, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is determined to convince pro-British Protestants that holding talks with Sinn Fein is in their best interest.