In what was billed as a major policy statement Monday, the leader of the Sinn Fein party - the political wing of the Irish Republican Army - has formally asked the paramilitary group to disarm in order to save the Northern Ireland peace process.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he and the party's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, had been in discussions with the IRA on the matter. "We have put to the IRA leadership the view that, if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue, that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation," he said.
IRA disarmament has been a major roadblock to full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord to end three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
The IRA has been under renewed pressure on the issue since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. Many pro-British politicians in Northern Ireland consider the IRA to be a terrorist organization.
Last week, the British province's senior Protestant politician, David Trimble, pulled his party out of Northern Ireland's executive administration. But he said his Cabinet ministers would rejoin the government, if the IRA begins disarmament.
Gerry Adams held talks with Mr. Trimble and with Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, before his speech to party activists in Belfast.
In a separate speech, Mr. Reid said the IRA is being asked to join "a new historical dynamic," which would be rewarded by Britain, the United States, and the world community.