Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has appointed rival Jeffrey Donaldson to his talks team, sources in the party confirmed tonight.
In a move which was being interpreted as an attempt to stave off a leadership challenge from anti-Good Friday Agreement elements in the party, members of UUP executive were told at a meeting in Belfast today that Mr Donaldson would take part in the negotiating team next week at Downing Street.
Sources said the Lagan Valley MP, who had been touted as a possible leadership challenger, will join UUP leader David Trimble and Stormont minister Michael McGimpsey at crucial peace process talks involving Prime Minister Tony Blair, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein.
It is understood Mr Donaldson accepted.
Supporters of the Lagan Valley MP had claimed Mr Donadlson was considering a leadership challenge and was disappointed Mr Trimble had not taken up his request to be involved in the talks.
The talks will aim to resolve differences over IRA disarmament, policing, the scaling down of Army bases and personnel and sanctions against Sinn Fein.