- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

BELFAST — British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that long-delayed assembly elections in Northern Ireland would go forward next month despite a setback in the province’s peace process.

“Yes, the election’s going ahead, but it depends what atmosphere it goes ahead in,” Mr. Blair told reporters after pro-British unionists said they were not satisfied with a report on an Irish Republican Army (IRA) weapons decommissioning.

Each side blamed the other for the setback. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble had said he would support the Nov. 26 vote after the IRA promised a major step toward disarmament.

Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, said earlier yesterday that the IRA was working to provide “full and final closure of the conflict.”

“We are opposed to the use or threat of force for any political purpose,” he said.

Mr. Trimble praised the statement, saying, “There were good things in it, very good things.”

He added, however, that the lack of details about the disarmament process, which was overseen by Gen. John de Chastelain of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, was unsatisfactory.

Mr. Trimble said there was “a failure” on the part of the general to give precise information on how many weapons had been put beyond use and what kind of arms had been decommissioned.

“We are putting the sequence on hold,” he said.

At an earlier press conference, Gen. de Chastelain had said that the IRA had got rid of “light, medium and heavy ordnance and munitions,” but Mr. Trimble argued that the statement would not have “a significant impact on public opinion.”

He added that his party would review the situation at a council meeting next week, leaving the window open for further negotiations.

Without the support of the Ulster Unionists, the November election will be meaningless, and voters in Northern Ireland could find themselves being asked to vote despite knowing that an assembly cannot be formed by political parties who refuse to work with each other.

But Mr. Blair remained upbeat, saying, “I hope and believe that we can find a way through this.”

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