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As Rep. Peter King's Muslim hearings approach, his past views draw ire
King's arrival in Congress in January 1993 coincided with a major shift in U.S. policy on Northern Ireland. President Clinton had promised during his campaign to support a visa for Sinn Fein leader Adams. And King was just about the only person in Washington who had a relationship with Adams.
Three days after his election to the House in November 1992, King was in Belfast for "a spiritual reawakening," he told a Newsday reporter who accompanied him.
"It's good to see you, Peter," Adams said at Sinn Fein headquarters. "Would you have a cup of tea?"
Clinton said that King was "an anchor of America's role in the Irish peace process."
"He was one of the few Americans who knew and understood Adams," Clinton said in an e-mail. "He helped to ensure Adams's successful visit to the U.S. Capitol for a St. Patrick Day luncheon in 1995, where we shook hands for the very first time, a moment that represented the profound change in American policy."
And King was grateful to the president for the breakthrough. He was one of only four Republicans who voted against all articles of impeachment charging Clinton with perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
King has described the fitful peace process, and his own role in it, in a barely fictionalized novel called "Deliver us from Evil," in which King is "Congressman Sean Cross," the hero who helps stop a conspiracy to derail the peace process.
In one scene, over dinner at an Irish restaurant in Manhattan, Clinton and Cross reflect on whether it would have been possible to deal with the IRA after the Sept. 11 attacks:
"'Sean, looking back on it, do you think I would have been able to move on Ireland the way I did if the World Trade Center had been attacked in 1991 instead of 2001?"
"No. And I've given that a lot of thought."
"The terrorism aspect."
"Yeah. There was such an outcry against terrorism after the Twin Towers, it would have been almost impossible to distinguish the IRA from al-Qaeda-even though to me there was no comparison."
"It would have been very tough."
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, King cooled on Adams, Sinn Fein, and even Ireland because of what he perceived as a lack of support for the United States.
"We've not been that close over the last few years; I think they could have done more to stand by the U.S.," King said of Sinn Fein. "I am disappointed. When things did go wrong for the IRA, when civilians were killed, I tried to put it in context, not defend it. But they weren't doing that when it came to us in Iraq or Afghanistan."
He hasn't been to Ireland since the Sept. 11 attacks.
After Obama was elected president, King got a call from Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chief of staff. "President-elect Obama would like you to be ambassador to Ireland," said Emanuel, according to King's recollection of the conversation.
King said he thought hard about it over a long weekend, fantasizing about hosting his Irish relatives at the ambassador's 62-acre estate inside Dublin's Phoenix Park, where the Irish president also lives. But King declined the offer.
"I just felt I would be defending foreign policy I didn't agree with," said King, "and to be sitting there with a bunch of Europeans spouting anti-American stuff, I would have a hard time."