Sinn Fein leader gets to visit U.S. Clinton allows Adams a visa despite IRA attacks

March 02, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Despite a resumption of terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army, President Clinton has decided to let Gerry Adams visit the United States for St. Patrick's Day in spite of his ties to the IRA.

It was made clear, however, that Mr. Adams will not get the kind of special treatment he received last year when he was an honored guest at the White House.

Administration officials are still smarting from the Feb. 9 decision by the IRA to abandon its 17-month cease fire.

"The cease-fire needs to be restored -- now!" said White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

Mr. Clinton and his advisers felt betrayed when the first in a series of three IRA bombs detonated in London, killing two civilians. The bombing came only eight days after the White House released a photograph of the president sitting with Mr. Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

The administration had put its faith in Mr. Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, who turned out to lack either the clout or the will to prevent the IRA from returning to terror. But Mr. Clinton's foreign policy advisers urged him not to abandon Mr. Adams, fearing that burning bridges with Sinn Fein would harm the still-fragile peace negotiations.

"The president would not have taken the step of approving the visa if he did not believe, based on our contact with Mr. Adams, that this could further the peace process," Mr. McCurry told reporters.

Britain and Ireland have set June 10 as a date for all-party talks to begin on the future of Northern Ireland, which they say Sinn Fein could join if the IRA declares it has restored a cease-fire.

But so far, the IRA has ruled out such a move.

Two years ago, Mr. Clinton ignored his own State Department, as well as the British government, in allowing Mr. Adams to visit the United States. Subsequently, the IRA announced a cease-fire in its 25-year bombing and assassination campaign.

Encouraged, the president went further last year, inviting Mr. Adams to the White House and lifting the ban on Sinn Fein fund-raising in the United States. In Northern Ireland, which has been a virtual armed camp between Protestants and Catholics, the bombs were quiet.

In the past months, Mr. Adams issued veiled threats that the cease-fire couldn't hold unless the British began negotiating.

Privately, the Clinton administration blamed Mr. Major for stalling. But when the IRA returned to terrorism, the president could do nothing but condemn the bombings.

When Mr. Major retreated from his position this week, White House officials decided to restore Mr. Adams' visa -- though not his fund-raising privileges.

Their hope is that they will provide Mr. Adams with leverage against IRA hard-liners who are skeptical that peaceful negotiations will prove fruitful.

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