The British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, Tuesday outlined his proposal for the first face-to-face talks in 15 years among Catholics and Protestants and the governments of Ireland and Britain on the future of the region.

The Brooke initiative, agreed to in principle by the main political parties in Northern Ireland - except Sinn Fein, the unofficial political wing of the Irish Republican Army - and both governments, signaled a potential breakthrough in relations between Catholics and Protestants in the strife-torn province."The endeavor on which we have all agreed to embark is an ambitious one. We are setting out to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands," Brooke told the House of Commons.

"While a succesful outcome cannot be guaranteed in advance, I am confident that all the potential participants are commited to a forward-looking and constructive approach," he added.

Talks among the four main parties, the Catholic Social Democratic Labor Party and the Alliance party, and the two loyalist parties, the Ulster Unionist and the Democratic Unionist party, would begin "as soon as possible," said Brooke.

In addition, talks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland administrators, and between Britain and the Republic of Ireland governments, would begin simultaneously, he said.

The three strands of the talks would try to achieve "new and more broadly based agreements" on administering the province.

Brooke initially presented proposals for the talks 14 months ago. The negotiations could begin next month, analysts said.

The envisioned replacement of British rule in Northern Ireland would be some sort of power-sharing arrangement between the factions, the British administration and the Irish Republic, according to observers.