by MONITOR

COMPARISONS have been drawn between Tony Blair's dismissal of Iraq's modest efforts at disarmament and his anxiety to get a similar gesture from the IRA. Cartoonists have had fun dropping the “q” from Iraq. Fair enough, but in reality there is no comparison between the two issues beyond their shared potential for long drawn-out negotiations and final deadlines. At Prime Minister's Questions yesterday Mr Blair said that the decision to delay by one month local elections in Northern Ireland had been taken to give all sides an opportunity to think carefully about the new proposals settled on with Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister. He then added: “These proposals provide the basis for a final agreement on power sharing. They must be implemented or there will be no agreement.” At face value those words seem to suggest that the “peace process” based on the Good Friday Agreement could come to an end within two months. If it were to do so it would be a devastating blow for Northern Ireland, Ireland and the British government. The new proposals probably include a further scaling down of the British military presence in Northern Ireland and the creation of an international monitoring body to oversee the ceasefires and impose sanctions on politicians linked to those who break them. The latter is a new and potentially very important provision.

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