President Clinton's embrace of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams may be good politics in the Senate Democratic caucus, where the president seeks the support of politicians who flaunt Green power every St. Patrick's Day. But it is also bumbling in the peace process in Northern Ireland and undermining the Irish-British framework agreement that the president ostensibly supports.
The paramilitary cease-fires and the framework agreement have elevated the Ulster Unionists to be the key players of the moment. Unionists are deeply suspicious of the agreement and habitually enraged at American politicians' past support of kidnapping, murder, bombing, extortion and maiming in their community. The Unionists are essential participants in negotiations under the framework agreement. Without them, it goes nowhere.
The Unionist Party represents a majority of votes in Northern Ireland. Were Ireland united tomorrow (which will not happen), Unionists would be the king-making coalition partner in every government in Dublin for the foreseeable future. If the Dublin government is going to talk meaningfully with anyone in Northern Ireland, it is the Unionist Party led by James Molyneux.
The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland should not be slighted. That means principally the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), which gets most Catholic votes. The SDLP leader, John Hume, thought up most of the progress that has occurred. Down the list come the Democratic Unionist Party of Ian Paisley, more extreme than the Ulster Unionists; Sinn Fein and Mr. Adams, as the public face of the IRA; and the Alliance Party of "extreme moderates," Protestant and Catholic.
Mr. Clinton allowed Mr. Adams to visit this country during the St. Patrick's Day season to raise funds for Sinn Fein, and invited him to a White House St. Patrick's Day reception March 17. Inviting political leaders of the Northern Ireland Protestant parties to the same reception is not even-handed but a calculated affront.
Gerry Adams' rise to respectability is part of the Northern Ireland peace process. But this premature embrace undercuts the British attempt to get the IRA to relinquish arms, offends Northern Ireland Catholic families who have been victims of IRA "justice" administered without niceties of law and alienates the Ulster Unionists.
If Mr. Clinton really wanted to help the framework agreement, which virtually all Catholics and nationalists in all of Ireland favor, he would seek to allay the suspicions of Ulster Protestants. Instead, he is working to inflame them.