Talks to revive a deal for the full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement have suffered a fresh blow after Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, yesterday resurrected an old pre-condition on his support for a return of the North's local power-sharing institutions.
Tuesday saw one of the worst setbacks for the peace process when, despite winning significant statements, concessions and arms from Sinn Féin and the IRA, Trimble simply welched on his side of a deal.
A deal which had taken a year to negotiate culminated in a series of choreographed moves designed to pave the way for the end of Direct British Rule, but Mr Trimble halted proceedings when it was his turn to deliver.
Republican frustration was moderated by the announcement, after a year of delays, that the British government will allow elections to the Belfast Assembly to proceed. However, with no sign of progress from the ongoing talks in Belfast, it now seems likely that the elections will not lead to an immediate return of the devolved administration at Stormont.
This was underlined by Trimble's latest demand for a timescale for the completion of the destruction of IRA arms caches, in addition to ``transparency'' about Tuesday's third act of decommissioning -- involving the publication of an inventory of weapons destroyed or some other public act.
In the absence of a move by the IRA which could be presented to the unionist electorate as a victory, Ulster Unionists are likely to contest the forthcoming election on a `firm but fair' manifesto, pointing that they have delivered where Ian Paisley's DUP has not.
To that end, the UUP has already stressing the progress, from their perspective, made on Tuesday.
Last night former Ulster Unionist Party assembly member Dermot Nesbitt said the Republican Movement was effectively saying ``the war is over''.
``We now have the conditions and we now have the republican movement pursuing peacefully its political objectives,'' Mr Nesbitt said.
``I fully understand that republicans will not, nor would I expect them to say the war is over. But that statement (by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on Tuesday) is grammatically saying the war is over. We have a new context whereby republicans are now going to pursue from here on in their objectives peacefully and therefore that means we now have the full and final closure of the conflict.''
This statement is at odds with the unionist demands on decommissioning, now exposed as merely tactical.
This was confirmed when Mr Trimble yesterday revealed that he had not informed himself of the details of the IRA's move to put weapons beyond use -- until it had been reported on Tuesday evening by the IICD, the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning.
He admitted that he had the support of the British government when he collapsed the deal on Tuesday, saying he had assurances ``that the British government would strongly support us on the issues of timescale and transparency''.
Mr Trimble denied he was raising a ``new pre-condition'' for an agreement, insisting that ``the timescale issue'' had been around since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Republicans speculated that Trimble has now raised his demand for a decommisioning schedule following reports that the IRA could move to call Trimble's perceived bluff on `transparency'.
Speaking at a press conference at the Sinn Féin offices in Sevastopol Street on Wednesday, Gerry Adams said he believed that Sinn Féin had been ``left standing at the altar'' by the UUP on Tuesday.
The Sinn Féin President said that he had still not been given a satisfactory explanation to why David Trimble had pulled the plug on the sequence of events that was meant to take place.
Mr Adams said that profound difficulties existed and he didn't know how they could be resolved, but pledged to engage in further dialogue in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Mr Adams said that there was a danger that the events of Tuesday would be diminished and added that the IRA act of decommissioning should not be overshadowed.
``There is a danger that what was done yesterday will in some way be diminished and this must be at all costs avoided.
``How long do you think it took the IRA to put this into place? How long does all that take? The IRA would not have embarked on this process unless it was clear what Mr Trimble would do.
``If this is to be sorted out in the short term, the short term clearly means within the next few days, because obviously if it is not sorted out in the next few days then it will have to be put off until after the election because there is really no other way of dealing with it,'' he said.
Mr Adams said that it was of key importance that when a commission which was established under law testified that it had witnessed IRA decommissioning in accordance with a government scheme that it was up to government to defend this commission.
``Following our discussions and even our attempts to have dialogue this morning, we still have no satisfactory explanation why the agreed sequences did not go forward,'' he said.
Mr Adams said that Sinn Féin had entered into talks with the Ulster Unionists in good faith.
``The fact is that we were left standing at the altar.''
Nevertheless, Mr Adams has held telephone conversations with UUP leader David Trimble, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and US President George Bush's envoy, Richard Haass, in an effort to salvage the situation.
He said that the hold-up in the process was disappointing but perhaps not surprising.
``If we make an agreement we keep it, we have to engage with the UUP and the time to do it is short,'' he added.