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Ireland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney attends an informal meeting of European Union Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn, Estonia September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo


By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - There is a still "a way to go" in negotiations between Britain and the European Union before enough progress on Irish issues has been made to move on to the next phase of Brexit talks, Ireland's foreign minister said on Friday.

The future EU/UK land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is one of three issues -- along with the exit bill and safeguarding expatriate rights -- that Brussels wants broadly solved before it decides in December whether to give the green light to move on to talks on future trade relations.

"I think that there is a way to go between the two negotiating teams to be able to provide credible answers and sufficient progress in the context of the Irish border before we can move on to Phase Two," Coveney told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

"While we welcome the language we get from the British government in the context of north-south challenges... there has always been a scepticism on how we are going to get there in the context of the British approach to Brexit as a whole," he said.

The Irish government has called on Britain to do more than simply promise a "hard" border will not return between it and Northern Ireland, which until a 1998 peace deal was separated by military checkpoints because of 30 years of sectarian violence in the British province.

Coveney said that if Britain leaves the EU's customs union and does not form some form of new bilateral customs union with the EU, that it is hard to see how London can honour its commitment to avoid any physical border infrastructure.

Coveney said he welcomed the fact that the European Union's Brexit task force had this week issued a working paper making clear that the EU's position on the Irish border is the same as that of the Irish government on this point.

"What is encouraging now is that the task force is absolutely in sync and in harness with the Irish government," he said when asked about the paper. "I think it is important that signal is very clear at this stage rather than at the very end of this round of negotiations in the build up to December."

Coveney said that the EU had made clear that Ireland's problems are the EU's problems and he did not foresee a situation where Ireland would need to use its veto to defend its position.

"Talking about individual countries using vetoes or blocking things , I don't think is helpful at this stage," he said.

EU diplomats and officials told Reuters this week that the continued slow pace of the divorce talks was increasing the possibility that EU leaders would again refuse next month to open trade talks.

The European Parliament's negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said "major issues" must still be resolved on safeguarding citizens' rights.

Ireland's prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday his personal belief was that it was likely that sufficient progress would be made by the December EU leaders meeting.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

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