Obama pushes parties towards Haass deal
THE US government has added its voice to encourage Northern Ireland parties to reach agreement in the Haass talks, which must end today.
Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan, two former US diplomats, have been chairing complex discussions on the flags, parading and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
"It is time to fish or cut bait," said Dr Haass, the talks chairman.
Despite hopes of a deal being struck by today's final deadline, there were signs the talks are reaching a new sticking point on the definition of terrorism.
Last night Caitlin Hayden, the US National Security Council spokeswoman, issued a statement on behalf of the Obama administration.
She said: "Initiating these talks demonstrated the commitment of the parties and people of Northern Ireland to move forward on tough issues. We are confident that a solution can be reached if there is political will on all sides."
She added: "We call upon the leadership of the five parties to make the compromises necessary to conclude an agreement now, one that would help heal the divisions that continue to stand between the people of Northern Ireland and the future they deserve."
The statement raises the pressure on participants but the signs are negotiations will continue until the last minute -- and probably beyond that.
Yesterday evening, parties were issued with a new draft agreement, the sixth so far, and they were to meet at 10am this morning to discuss it.
Shortly before he received the new draft, Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, said the previous draft was up to 90pc "ready to go over the line".
"So there's not a lot left, but what is left is serious from our point of view," he said.
He said he had submitted a new document to Dr Haass and that his support could not be guaranteed unless his concerns were met.
Asked to spell out his reservations, he said his paper was confidential, but added: "We are keen that there is an acknowledgment that there was terrorism here and this appears to be a difficulty for other parties."
He said he was satisfied with the proposals on flags and that parading needed only minor adjustment.
Nationalists appeared to be generally on board. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has voiced hope a deal can be done and appealed to participants to overcome their differences.