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  U.S. Shifts, Grants Visa to IRA Leader

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 1994; Page A22

A controversial advocate of Irish republicanism, banned for two decades from the United States because of ties to the terrorist Irish Republican Army (IRA), will be allowed to visit New York this week.

A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday a visa will be granted to Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, so that he can speak at a foreign policy meeting in New York on Tuesday. Adams will not be allowed to stay in the country longer than 48 hours, will not be permitted to travel more than 25 miles from the conference site and is prohibited from raising funds.

The decision, which required the concurrence of the State Department, came after a 90-minute meeting on Friday between Adams and Valentino Martinez, the U.S. consul general in Belfast.

"It is our sense that Adams is trying to move the IRA in the direction of peace. His comments {during the meeting} . . . we think in toto were a step forward, and demonstrated to us that it is worth reaching out to Adams," a senior White House official said yesterday.

Adams, 44, has been denied visas eight times because of his "involvement in terrorist activity," according to a White House statement. He is invited to speak at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, along with representatives of four other parties that either oppose or favor unification of the North, now a part of Britain, and the Republic of Ireland in the south.

British Prime Minister John Major and Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds issued a "joint declaration" Dec. 15 that, among other things, offered Sinn Fein a role in peace negotiations over the future of Northern Ireland if the IRA ceased all violent activities. Though the IRA is outlawed, Sinn Fein, which means "ourselves alone" in Irish, is a legal political party.

In the declaration, Britain agreed not to stand in the way if the people of Northern Ireland want to unite with the Irish Republic, while Ireland agreed that any change in Northern Ireland's status must have the consent of the loyalist Protestant majority, which wants to remain part of Britain.

Since then, Adams has called for the freeing of hundreds of IRA members in British prisons, which Major has refused to do, saying those held are criminals. Much of the rest of the rhetoric has been muddy. Adams has said the peace initiative is a "potentially significant development" but has asked for "clarifications" of British intent, which Major says he will not provide.

The decision to let Adams into the country, however, signals that the Clinton administration feels the Sinn Fein leader on balance is now a force for peace.

Yesterday's White House statement said Adams told Martinez he desired "to see an end to all violence and an end to this conflict," and that it was his "personal and political priority to see an end to the IRA and an end to all other organizations involved in armed actions."

Clinton was urged to grant the visa in a letter signed by 42 members of Congress, including several who had supported earlier visa denials, among them Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) was known to oppose giving Adams a visa.

The Associated Press reported that the the British government said it hoped the visa will persuade Sinn Fein and the IRA allies to renounce violence in the campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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