Clinton's break with British line helped press the two sides to compromise CEASE-FIRE IN NORTHERN IRELAND

September 01, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- If there was one moment when it was clear that President Clinton was taking a more active role in promoting peace in Northern Ireland than his predecessors, it was Jan. 31, when Gerry Adams, leader of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, set foot in the United States.

His arrival signaled that the United States was no longer in lock-step with Britain's practice of trying to isolate spokesmen for the Republican "men of violence."

In the larger sense, the message was that here in Washington, for the first time, was an American administration that was no longer automatically hewing to London's line on the whole Irish question.

But as Gerry Adams -- an articulate and shrewd politician who leads Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA -- entered the United States, it was clear that he, too, was expected to make some adjustments.

Therein lies the key to the U.S. role in helping bring about the cease fire in Northern Ireland: It pressured both sides to compromise.

Mr. Clinton interrupted his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, Mass., yesterday to hail the IRA cease-fire declaration as the possible "beginning of a new era that holds the promise of peace for all the people of Northern Ireland."

He called both Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major to congratulate them on their "courage and vision" in pursuing a peace settlement in Ireland. Officials said a summit of the three was possible, and might be firmed up when Irish Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring visits Mr. Clinton at Martha's Vineyard tomorrow.

Apparently savoring the vindication of his own sometimes controversial involvement in the Irish peace process, the president said: "I am pleased that the United States has been able to contribute to this process of reconciliation."

Mr. Adams got his visa after eight refusals over the previous 11 years because Mr. Clinton personally rejected the objections of the British government and overruled the recommendation of the State Department that the Sinn Fein leader remain banned. The visa opponents wanted Sinn Fein to renounce violence explicitly before its leader was allowed into the United States.

Arguing for his admission was a powerful coalition of members of Congress, including two Irish-American Senate Democrats, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York; Mr. Kennedy's sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland; National Security Adviser W. Anthony Lake; and an assortment of Irish-American groups. They were sufficiently encouraged by hints from Mr. Adams about an end to IRA violence to think he should be allowed to state his case here.

Mr. Clinton explained his decision to grant the visa as an effort to play "a constructive role in pushing the peace process." It was a clear cue for Mr. Adams to follow.

"Had he come in with a message of guns and bombs and continuous violence, his visit would have been a disaster," said the Rev. Sean McManus, who was parish priest at the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown from 1972 to 1975 and now is president of the Irish Caucus, a Capitol Hill lobbying group.

Mr. Adams spent 48 hours in New York, was given a bagpipe fanfare at a jubilant Irish-American rally, appeared on all the major TV talk shows. He nodded toward the peace process, but he held his hand on the then-new British-Irish demand for an IRA cease-fire in return for a seat at the negotiating table, the deal he finally accepted this week.

Rep. Bruce King, a New York Republican and an executive member of the congressional ad hoc committee on Irish affairs who met with Mr. Adams during the visit, said: "He basically did what I thought he would do. He said he had to receive private assurances, concrete steps on the ground, before he could commit his people to a cease-fire."

Mr. King added: "I can't emphasize enough how important Adams' visa to this country was. It set the final stage.

"The importance was it sent a strong message to the British that this was a different president, that the Cold War was over, and with peace in the Middle East and South Africa that this president was going to look at matters differently, and the'special relationship' [between the United States and Britain] was no longer going to be what it used to be.

"It also said to the Republicans that they had someone in the White House who was willing to listen."

Mr. Clinton signaled during the 1992 campaign that he was going to play a more active role than his predecessors in Northern Ireland. At a meeting with Irish-Americans during the New York primary he promised to:

* Appoint a special envoy to Northern Ireland, although faced with British objections he has yet to make the appointment.

* Support the McBride principles, which call for withholding U.S. investment from companies in Northern Ireland that discriminate against the Roman Catholic minority. His failure to act strongly on that commitment has disappointed Irish-American activists.

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