British army experts have defused a large car bomb at Belfast's international airport.

Police officials say if the device had exploded, scores of people could have been killed or wounded.

Two telephone warnings led to the discovery of the bomb. The renegade guerrilla group the "Real IRA" has claimed responsibility for planting the bomb.

It comes as Britain and Ireland launched a new peace package for the province. Northern Ireland unionists and republicans have begun considering a proposal aimed at salvaging the 1998 Good Friday power-sharing accord.

The latest proposals from the British and Irish governments promise a new look at contentious issues including paramilitary disarmament, police reform and security. But it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer demanding all parties respond within five days.

David Trimble, Ulster Unionist party leader Northern Ireland's main Protestant party has reacted cooly to the proposal. He says there can be no progress without decommissioning.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, has said it will meet to discuss the proposals Friday. Leader Gerry Adams said the party is keeping an open mind.

The British government has said it may suspend the province's government as soon as August 12 if the parties reject the formula.

The conflict between Catholics, who favour closer times with Ireland, and Protestants, who want to keep their link with Britain, has claimed more than 3,600 lives over the past 30 years.