His messages, sent last week both from Washington and from the American Embassy in London, will have helped to allay Unionist fears as the British Government removed its objections to the language of last week's IRA ceasefire statement. Providing peace holds for several months, Downing Street has made clear that the IRA's refusal to call the ceasefire 'permanent', need not be a barrier to talks.
President Clinton, whose important role in securing the IRA ceasefire is gradually emerging, has sent messages to assure James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist leader, that he will not pressurise Britain to make concessions to Sinn Fein.
Mr Molyneaux - who held a meeting with the US vice- president in Washington in April - had calls from officials at the White House and from the US ambassador to London, Admiral William Crowe.
Downing Street sources said that, although words were important, 'whether the words are right or not the British Government has to make a judgement, say within two or three months'. They added: 'Sinn Fein appears to be nudging towards what we want.'
That marks a departure from what John Major and his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said after the ceasefire last Wednesday. The word 'permanent' must be included, they said.
Ministers are considering whether to lift measures such as the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein and exclusion orders, if the ceasefire holds. Concessions would be difficult during the three-month 'decontamination' period although some believe that the broadcasting ban could be removed after the Conservative party conference. The question of whether security patrols in Republican areas should be reduced will be left to local commanders.
Unionist sources believe the Ulster Volunteer Force could be urged to cease violence but that the Ulster Freedom Fighters are much more hostile to a ceasefire.
Yesterday the Irish premier, Albert Reynolds, appealed to loyalists to stop the killing. Mr Reynolds said there had been contacts with the loyalist terror groups adding: 'I have given the same attention to both sets of paramilitaries.'
The Ulster Unionists are expected to continue taking part in the peace process for the time being, despite Downing Street's gradual change of position on the IRA ceasefire. One senior Unionist source said: 'The contacts and messages we have been getting from the United States have indicated that they are prepared to put in aid but, more importantly, they are not going to put pressure on the British Government. They are going to be neutral. Sinn Fein may think there is a Irish Government/ American/ Hume (John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party) axis. But one leg has fallen off that stool.'
After a 45-minute meeting with Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, on an island off the Massachusetts coast, Mr Clinton said yesterday: 'We want to reach out to work with all the elements in Ireland, in Northern Ireland. We want all the communities to feel a part of the peace process and to feel that there is a peace dividend.'
The President is anxious to ensure that he gets credit for last week's breakthrough. Plans are being laid for a peace agreement to be presented to a joint session of the US Congress by Mr Major, Mr Reynolds and President Clinton.
Further evidence of the new, more moderate direction which Irish-American nationalism is taking has come with the demoting by Sinn Fein of Martin Galvin, the former mouthpiece of the IRA in North America. He was excluded from a meeting in New York on Thursday where the former IRA commander Joe Cahill explained to IRA supporters the reasons for the ceasefire.
In Dublin there was uncertainty about reports that the Irish National Liberation Army, a small Republican splinter group, is also on the verge of a ceasefire.
Reports, page 2; Ceasefire special, pp 15-17; Leading article, Neal Ascherson, page 18Reuse content