Adams gets Clinton handshake

But Mayhew warns peace cannot last while terrorists have guns
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The Independent Online
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, yesterday met the US President, Bill Clinton, in a symbolic encounter on Capitol Hill. The two shook hands and, during a brief exchange, Mr Clinton was said to have raised his fist in the air and said: "This is going to work."

The two met at the traditional St Patrick's Day lunch for leading members of the Irish-American community hosted by House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Capitol Hill. The lunch was attended by John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister.

The occasion was vintage folksy Irish-American. Mr Gingrich wore a green tie, and the 50 or so guests were serenaded by bagpipes. When they sat down to lunch - corned beef, cabbage and potatoes - they were accompanied by a rendition of "Danny Boy". During lunch Mr Adams and Mr Clinton sat at separate tables.

When the President and Mr Adams finally shook hands, the room burst into applause. Afterwards Mr Clinton reportedly raised his fist in the air and exclaimed: "This is going to work." The words seemed to signify his confidence that his gamble in allowing Mr Adams to fundraise would pay off in speeding up the peace process.

After the lunch, Mr Adams said he had commended Mr Clinton for his efforts to advance the peace process. "The engagement was positive, was cordial," he said of their meeting, which lasted four or five minutes.

Mr Adams said Mr Clinton did not talk about the decommissioning of IRA weapons and he did not expect to discuss this at the White House today. He said all weapons, in the hands of the IRA, unionists and British Army, had to be removed.

"It means a total demilitarisation," Mr Adams said. He said his party was poised to enter into talks with the British Government at ministerial level, but that Britain had banned ministerial contact with the Sinn Fein. "I would appeal to Mr Major . . . to start real peace talks."

At the same time in Newry, Co Down, Army experts defused a bomb containing 2lbs of what was believed to be Semtex explosive. The RUC said the bomb was discovered after two anonymous telephone warnings. There has been no claim of responsibility for the device.

Two similar bombs have been found and defused in the last few months. Neither of the previous devices was the work of the IRA and those who planted them appear to have wanted to cause embarrassment for Sinn Fein.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said he was "very concerned" by the discovery.

"The device was clearly intended to cause maximum destruction. Mercifully no one was hurt," he said. "The Government has been saying since the ceasefire that peace should be cemented by the decommissioning of arms by terrorist organisations.

"These incidents demonstrate we cannot have a lasting peace while terrorists hold weapons and explosives. It reinforces the importance of the Government's position on the decommissioning of the arms held by both sets of paramilitaries."

The crowning moment of Mr Adams's 10-day visit to the US - his fourth in the space of a year - comes tonight when he will attend the annual White House St Patrick's Day reception hosted by Mr Clinton.

Meanwhile, reports were circulating that Mr Clinton might announce possible monitoring of any demilitarisation in Northern Ireland, by the US or a third party. Mr Major is expected make his much-delayed telephone call to Mr Clinton at the weekend.

Clinton under fire, page 17

Six months on, page 28