Clinton pledges to maintain ties with Sinn Fein leader

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The Clinton administration has resolved to maintain its close ties with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, in spite of his failure to condemn last Friday's IRA bombing in London.

The decision is in contrast with the positions of both London and Dublin that have opted to distance themselves from Mr Adams until he states clearly his opposition to the resumed violence. "The White House is continuing its relationship with Adams," a source close to the President said yesterday."There won't be any pulling of visas or anything like that."

United States officials dismiss reports that Mr Adams knew in advance that the London bombing was imminent. The Sinn Fein leader telephoned the White House late on Friday - just after Irish radio had reported the end of the ceasefire - to warn it that trouble was afoot. "He said he was hearing some very disturbing news and he would call us back," a senior official told reporters. The same official insisted, however, that Mr Adams did not explicitly say that he knew that a bomb was about to go off.

As he tries to cast himself as an international peace-maker in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and in the Balkans, President Clinton has a considerable political interest in seeing the peace effort revived.

The President, who has successfully cultivated political support among the large Irish-American community, is due to receive the "Irish-American of the Year" award at a ceremony in New York on 11 March. Organisers said the event, which now takes on an unwelcome poignancy, will still go ahead.

In an editorial that was sharply critical of British policy, the New York Times yesterday urged John Major to reconsider his position that all-party talks should not precede the decommissioning of IRA weapons. "Mr Major allowed the ceasefire to continue for 18 months with no further progress toward the talks. He seemed not to understand that Mr Adams offered a hope for peace, and needed to be able to show his followers some concrete advantage in putting down their guns," it said.

The White House held a weekend conference call for 40 prominent Irish- Americans, including businessmen, publishers and civic leaders, to emphasis that it intended staying engaged in the peace process. "They are looking at what happened in the context of all the global crises that they are dealing with all the time and they want to stay involved," said one of those at the briefing.

Meanwhile, Washington continues to serve as a hub for all parties in the conflict. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, will visit the White House today for talks with Anthony Lake, the President's National Security adviser.