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Peace Talks: The Middle East and Northern Ireland

1999 News of the World

The embryonic Northern Irish coalition government was stillborn the day it was to convene, July 16, 1999. The impasse was the result of Sinn Fein's insistence that the I.R.A. would only begin giving up its illegal weapons after the formation of the new government, while Unionists demanded disarmament first. Subsequent talks on the agreement, which would have ended three decades of direct rule from London, have gone nowhere, despite the last-ditch intervention of former Sen. George Mitchell, who helped engineer the 1998 landmark Good Friday Agreement.

The stalemated Middle East peace talks that faltered under Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu revived with the election of the Labour Party's Ehud Barak, who managed to forge a broad, stable coalition government. At his inauguration (July 6, 1999) Prime Minister Barak announced that “nothing is more important in my view than…putting an end to the 100-year conflict in the Middle East.” By this he meant not only peace with the Palestinians, but with Syria as well. Barak also promised to end the low-grade war that has barraged Southern Lebanon since 1985, which has been fueled by Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas. No thaw in Syrian–Israeli relations is thus far discernible, but Israel has moved ahead with the 1998 Wye Accord, ceding additional territory to the Palestinians.


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