30/05/2008

"Talk To Terrorists" Urges Orde

'Talking to terrorists' has been is in the news today as the police officer tipped as a front-runner to be the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police raises the possibility of the UK talking to al-Qaeda.

Police Service of Northern Ireland chief Sir Hugh Orde told the Guardian that talking to al-Qaeda was not unthinkable but "a question of timing".

He believes such a strategy could end its campaign of violence, noting that 30 years tackling the IRA had taught him that policing alone was not enough to defeat terrorism.

However, the Government has already rejected suggestions it negotiate with al-Qaeda.

However, it is not the first time that senior establishment figures have raised the prospect of negotiations with al-Qaeda.

In March, former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell said that at some point in the future it might be necessary to start talks with the group.

Mr Powell, who helped broker the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, said the deal showed such negotiations could work.

At the time, the Foreign Office rejected the suggestion, saying the government would not talk to any group actively promoting its aims through violence.

But, Sir Hugh said it was important to maintain tough law enforcement against those involved in terrorist activity and that this would help bring them to the negotiating table.

He said IRA members had entered into negotiations with "a certain pragmatism" after realising their violent approach "wasn't ever going to work".

Sir Hugh cited his 2004 meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as an example of how one-time opponents can become partners in a peace process.

Meanwhile, in the closing days of Dr Ian Paisley's reign as NI First Minister, the seminal DUP politician has rejected political commentary that he "did a U-turn" on talking to terrorists.

BBC NI's Political Editor Mark Devenport said: "On the verge of stepping down as DUP leader, Ian Paisley is in expansive form reflecting on his 40 years in politics.

"Some may see him as the Dr No who became Dr Yes, but he believes his policy has remained the same.

"He describes his decades of protest politics as very important and insists he only struck a deal once republicans met his bottom line on policing, disarmament and the use of violence.

He insisted that talking to the IRA during its most violent phase was out of the question - and it was only when they - the IRA - came round to the view that their campaign of brutal murder and terrorism was doomed to failure, that he engaged with their political masters in Sinn Fein - insisting this was on his own terms and didn't represent any change in policy.

Dr Paisley will be feted tonight at a gala £100 per head dinner after a less exclusive gathering of the party faithful to mark his departure from both the DUP and the post of First Minister, next week.

His long-serving deputy, Peter Robinson, takes over both positions during the next few days.

(BMcC)

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