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Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arrives to attend the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann


DUBLIN (Reuters) - It is not yet clear if Britain and the European Union can agree on written assurances to avoid a hard Northern Ireland border by a Monday deadline, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday.

But he said he was hopeful a meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday would lead to a deal in time for a Dec. 14-15 EU summit. That would allow Britain to move on to talks on its future trading relations with the bloc.

Avoiding a so-called hard border on the island of Ireland is the last major hurdle before talks begin on the future trade relationship and a two-year Brexit transition.

Tusk said he had asked May to "put a final offer on the table" by Monday, but Coveney suggested agreement on the wording of written reassurances may come later.

"The hope is that those [Monday] meetings will result in a momentum that can be carried into the leaders' summit the week after ... and can allow this Brexit negotiation process to open up to phase two of discussions," Coveney told RTE radio.

Asked if he expected an agreed text of written British assurances on the issue Monday morning, Coveney said: "Let's not run before we can walk here. Obviously, we would like that to be the case."

The Irish cabinet is to meet at 0900 GMT on Monday and give Prime Minister Leo Varadkar a mandate to make a decision on the border issue.

"That may or may not be on the back of an agreed wording. That remains to be seen over the next number of hours," Coveney said.

Ireland is not asking the British government to "do the impossible" and provide a detailed plan border will work, but rather for "clear principles" for the second phase of talks to eliminate the possibility of a hard border.

"What we have to make sure here is that we don't have an unintended consequence of the re-emergence of a [hard] border," he said. "We can't allow that and we won't allow that."

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Potter, Larry King)

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