US President George W. Bush made a rare intervention in the Northern Ireland peace process Friday with a telephone call to the Democratic Unionist (DUP) leader, Ian Paisley.
The lunchtime call came as the main parties involved in the negotiations, the DUP and Sinn Fein, were given a final draft of the proposals drawn up by the British and Irish governments.
The proposals were a response to long lists of queries and demands made by the parties, and the governments said they would publish the draft next week if there was no final agreement.
Bush is understood to have urged Paisley to take the final step towards allowing Sinn Fein to participate fully in a power-sharing executive for the province.
The only major issue left to be resolved is understood to be the DUP's demand that photographs be taken of the final handover of weapons and explosives by the IRA, scheduled for the next few weeks and to be witnessed by two members of the clergy, as well as the independent international body overlooking decommissioning.
After the call, which he described as "long and useful," Paisley said: "I told him I'd like to be in a position to make a deal but that any deal must be fair and must address to my satisfaction and my electorate's satisfaction all the fundamental issues that have blocked progress for so long.
"I told him we must build a solid foundation in order to move forward.
"I reminded the president of the fact that he would not have terrorists in his government and that we must be satisfied that IRA terrorism is over and cannot return."
Bush was anxious that a deal be secured and told Paisley to call him any time if further help was needed.
Paisley met with his party's executive last night and members said if he accepted the new proposals they would back him.
One of the party's MPs, Jeffery Donaldson, said: "We are closer to a deal than we have ever been. We are hopeful that we can close the outstanding issues but we are not there yet.
"I have to say that on the issue of `no guns, no government' we have made significant progress and I believe that we can close the gap."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who was also expecting a call from Bush, said he had not yet approached the IRA on the subject of photographs. If it was agreed, they would be kept in the possession of the head of the decommissioning body, retired Canadian general John de Chastelain, and not made public until March at the earliest.
Some DUP politicians want to have them published earlier to justify their cooperation with republicans.
British government sources believe a deal is close and a power-sharing executive could start work early next year.