Northern Ireland and Britain took a first step toward ending their 25-year conflict today, as the two sides met for the first time in a three-hour negotiating session. Though the positions of both parties are still far apart, today's historic meeting was described as calm and constructive and another date was set for December 19. Sinn Fein's delegation leader Martin McGuiness said, "We've made a beginning. It should have happened a long time ago." U.K. Prime Minister John Major, from a European summit in Germany, cautioned though that these sessions are only "talks about talks, but they do lead to getting Sinn Fein into a proper constituent process." Clear from today's exchange of formal statements: One of the biggest obstacles on the road to peace will be mutual disarmament.