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Blair To Broker No. Ireland Peace

April 18, 2000

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair traveled to Belfast today in a new attempt to salvage Northern Ireland’s faltering peace accord, but warned a breakthrough is unlikely.

``I think we all know to raise expectations would be wrong because there are really difficult issues to work through,″ Blair said.

The prime minister planned meetings with key parties in hopes of eventually producing a deal to restore powers to the 11-week-old Protestant-Catholic Cabinet suspended in February because of the deadlock over the Irish Republican Army’s refusal to disarm.

The power-sharing Cabinet _ which included the largest Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, and members of the IRA’s political ally, Sinn Fein _ was the centerpiece of the accord reached on Good Friday 1998.

``The Good Friday agreement remains the only show in town,″ Blair said. ``There’s not going to be another and when people say that the Good Friday Agreement is in tatters, it is nonsense. The basis of the Good Friday Agreement remains.″

Blair’s visit was his first to this British-ruled province since last July. He travel to Dublin later today to brief Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on his meetings.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he had no new suggestions to put to Blair, and urged the British leader not to rely on Ahern to try to persuade the IRA to disarm.

``I am not going to say this agreement is dead,″ Trimble said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview. ``I think it is premature ... but what we have to do is to get the IRA to deliver on their obligations.″

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said he hoped Blair would put forward new suggestions. Sinn Fein, he added, also would seek a guarantee that, once revived, Britain’s top official in the province, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, would have no power to suspend the Catholic-Protestant Cabinet again.

``It may require some form of external guarantee,″ McLaughlin said. ``If we are going to set up the institutions now, then we need to know that it is not an experiment, that it is not a trial period.″

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