An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has described David Trimble's comments on decommissioning and the peace process as "clearly helpful" and "good for the peace process".

The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble earlier said that he would be prepared to re-enter government with Sinn Fein without the handover of IRA weapons. However he said he would do so only if there was a firm guarantee that guns would be decommissioned down the line.

"I have made it clear that we are prepared to be involved in a fresh sequence which will probably not involve arms up front but it has to involve the issue being dealt with, it has to involve the matter working", said the Ulster Unionist leader.

Speaking at a news conference in the US capital, Mr Trimble said any such plan would require a clear intent from republicans that the war is over and violence was finished for good.

Sinn Fein have reacted cautiously to Mr Trimble's comments. The party's chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, said if Mr Trimble was prepared to repeat his comments on his return from the United States there might be the possibility they could do business.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader John Hume, who also met the President and Mrs Clinton today, welcomed Mr Trimble's words as a positive development. "The SDLP will work with the other parties in the coming weeks to resolve this difficult situation.", he said.

Mr Hume praised the absolutely pivotal role that President Clinton has played in the peace process and he also praised Hillary Clinton for her involvement in the Vital Voices project which brought together 400 women from all over the British Isles and America to back the calls for peace.

A close ally of the President, former Congressman Bruce Morrison, said he believed Mr Clinton would stay deeply involved in Northern Ireland politics after he left office.

I think he'll stay concerned, engaged, said Mr Morrison. I would hope he will look for ways to be helpful. Mr Morrison said he did not envisage Mr Clinton taking a chairing role like former US Senator George Mitchell but he did think he could play an important role talking to key people such as Tony Blair and the Northern Irish politicians at critical stages