The US President, George Bush, is to visit Northern Ireland on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the situation in Iraq and the peace processes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

According to officials at Downing Street, Mr Bush will have talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

A spokesperson for the Irish Government has said the US had played a vital role in advancing the peace process in recent years, and the engagement of President Bush at this key moment was a clear reflection of the continued commitment of the administration.

It is understood Tony Blair and President Bush will discuss Iraq on Tuesday morning, before being joined at noon by the Taoiseach.

The three leaders will have a brief discussion, before chairing a round-table meeting of all the pro-agreement parties in the North.

President Bush is expected to have left the North by mid-afternoon.

The meeting is in advance of Thursday's session at which the British and Irish governments are expected to unveil their proposals for restoring the Good Friday institutions.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has welcomed the impending visit of President Bush and PM Blair.

Cowen in talks with Murphy

Meanwhile, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, was in Belfast today for discussions with the Northern Secretary, Paul Murphy.

The two governments are working to deal with the problems that surfaced during political talks in the North last month.

Reliable sources in London and Dublin are optimistic about the prospects.

If significant progress is made by the politicians in those talks next week, the attention will switch to the IRA.

David Trimble says he will need to see evidence in words and deeds that the war is over before he asks the Ulster Unionist Party to commit itself to any deal.

Deadlines are tight with Assembly elections due on 29 May.

The most optimistic scenario would see successful talks at Hillsborough next week, followed within days by an IRA statement and actions.

That could encourage David Trimble to call a party meeting before the end of April and seek a mandate to contest Assembly elections on a pro power-sharing basis.

Republican sources have told RTÉ if there is to be a significant IRA move on arms it will be done through the International Decommissioning Body chaired by General de Chastelain.

The words could involve a revisiting of the IRA ceasefire statement of 1994.