The British and Irish prime ministers failed Thursday to soothe the tensions tearing apart Northern Ireland's joint Roman Catholic-Protestant government, the cornerstone of a 1998 peace accord.
After five hours of talks, Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland accepted that the administration's Protestant leader, David Trimble, will resign Sunday, as he has threatened to do for weeks. But they vowed to keep mediating among the coalition's warring parties and preserve their experiment in power sharing.
Both prime ministers had hoped to avoid negotiations in July, Northern Ireland's perennially bitter month, when Protestants stage mass marches across the British province. But they decided that the talks must be held and that a start to Irish Republican Army disarmament must form part of any breakthrough.
Blair, meeting with his Irish counterpart at Hillsborough Castle southwest of Belfast, said their goal in the next two weeks will be "to get this agreement back on track in a really solid way that, frankly, doesn't involve us having to come back and nurture it and help it along the way."
At the talks, it was confirmed that Trimble will resign Sunday and set in motion the possible demolition of the four-party coalition.
Trimble had threatened to quit July 1 unless the IRA began to give up its stockpiled weapons in accordance with the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement--an ultimatum the IRA's political allies in the Sinn Fein party have rejected.