Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

White House piles on pressure over Richard Haass's proposals

Peter Robinson  and Martin McGuinness may meet President Obama again this March
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness may meet President Obama again this March

US vice-President Joe Biden phoned Peter Robinson on his birthday to urge him to reach an agreement over Richard Haass's proposals, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Both the US and UK governments are putting increasing pressure on the Northern Ireland parties to compromise on a way forward on the most divisive political issues in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron said there was "a lot of merit" in the Haass proposals, and urged progress on reaching agreement.

And this paper has learned that the US administration has backed Dr Haass's draft agreement on the flags, parading and the past.

Mr Biden made the position clear to Mr Robinson in the phone call on Sunday, December 29, Mr Robinson's 65th birthday. It is understood that Mr Biden opened up by wishing the First Minister a happy birthday but moved quickly to bringing as much pressure as he could on the DUP leader to reach an agreement.

The DUP doesn't negotiate on Sundays, but the following day was the climax of the stalled Haass negotiations.

Richard Haass was invited in by the Northern Ireland parties and, unlike previous talks facilitators like Senator George Mitchell, he did not have the explicit backing of the US, the UK and the Irish governments.

This meant that he could not offer rewards or hint at punishments to encourage agreement. The US administration is at present considering throwing its weight more explicitly behind him in the run-up to St Patrick's Day.

The appointment of Dr Haass or some other intermediary cannot be ruled out if the parties do not make progress on their own.

Yesterday, Dr Haass joked about the prospect.

He tweeted a Belfast Telegraph column by Lindy McDowell who wrote about the French President Francois Hollande. He wrote "vfunny: might be less daunting to return to 5 party talks in Belfast than to attempt 3 party talks in Paris."

In the Commons, David Cameron commended the Haass document as the basis for a deal.

"I think there is a lot of merit in the Haass proposals. I think he did some excellent work," he said.

STORY SO FAR

Talks chaired by Richard Haass, a former US diplomat, on flags, parading and the legacy of the Troubles, broke up without agreement on New Year's Eve. But the paper discussed has now been published. It was debated on Stormont on Monday with no motion or amendment receiving a majority. On Tuesday the leaders of the five parties on the Executive met to try to find a way forward and they will meet again next Tuesday.

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