WASHINGTON -- Hoping to solve a domestic political problem without antagonizing a major foreign ally, President Clinton prepared yesterday to allow an Irish Republican leader into the United States if he renounces violence.
In the first-ever substantive contact between the United States and the Irish Republican Army, U.S. consular officials will summon Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political wing, to ask if he is prepared to renounce violence publicly and sign on to the Irish-British peace process for Northern Ireland.
If he is, the United States will waive its usual ban on visas for people involved in terrorism and allow him to enter the United States next week to speak at a conference in New York on the conflict in the British-ruled province.
A senior administration official described the move as a "significant" effort to reach out to Mr. Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, and show that he can play an important role in progress toward ending centuries of bloodshed.
Up until now, successive American administrations have avoided any contacts with any faction of the IRA and has been discouraged by Britain from playing any diplomatic role on Northern Ireland.
Senior U.S. officials won support from Britain for the Adams plan and also consulted with Ireland. Today's contact with Mr. Adams will occur in Dublin or Belfast.
But it was unclear if Mr. Adams would agree to the terms. He and Sinn Fein have refused to endorse the Irish-British declaration.
President Clinton had been lobbied heavily by Irish-Americans and powerful Democratic senators to grant a waiver that would allow Mr. Adams to attend the New York conference, which would give Sinn Fein a major public-relations boost in this country.
The United States previously refused entry to Mr. Adams on the ground that he was a high-level strategist for the IRA, which has claimed responsibility for repeated acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland and Britain.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut argued in a letter that recent strides toward ending the fighting warranted a change in policy toward Mr. Adams.
By allowing him into the country, the four senators said, the United States would "facilitate the emerging dialogue" in Northern Ireland.
New York Gov. Mario Cuomo also has written President Clinton urging that a visa waiver be granted. Proponents of granting the visa argued that Mr. Adams should be given an incentive to move away from the IRA's violent wing.
House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash, however, sided with Britain, which believes that pressure should be kept on Mr. Adams to join in the peace process.
Britain has offered to allow Sinn Fein into the negotiating process if it renounces violence.