President Clinton agreed Friday to let Irish Republican Army ally Gerry Adams travel to the United States later this month for Saint Patrick’s Day, a sign that the administration has retained its confidence in Adams even as the IRA in the past month ended a cease-fire and sponsored a wave of terrorist bombings.
Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the outlawed IRA, applied for and was granted a restricted visa that bars him from conducting any fund-raising activities here.
“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,” White House press secretary Michael McCurry said.
Administration officials said Clinton’s decision reflects his belief that the momentum for a settlement in Northern Ireland has not been destroyed by the recent violence. This belief was fortified, U.S. officials said, by this week’s announcement by British Prime Minister John Major and Irish Prime Minister John Bruton setting a date, June 10, for peace talks to begin for all parties in Northern Ireland that have renounced further violence.
“We are encouraging all parties to participate in those discussions, and we believe that the announcement of that date gives Sinn Fein and the IRA something that they have long looked for, which is a date certain for all-party talks,” McCurry said.
But if Sinn Fein got what it wanted, the United States and Britain have so far not gotten what they want - an IRA agreement to resume the ceasefire.
U.S. officials said they believed withholding the visa would have hurt Adams within Sinn Fein, where he is believed to be an advocate for negotiation over those more militant.