The Prime Minister last night described the South Quay explosion as an "appalling outrage" and declared: "We will pursue relentlessly those responsible for this disgraceful attack."
Mr Major, who spoke late last night to both President Bill Clinton and John Bruton, the Taioseach, called on the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA to condemn those who planted the bomb "immediately and unequivocally". The President telephoned Mr Major to express his "outrage and sympathy." Mr Major, who was joined by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, and the Liberal Democrats' Paddy Ashdown in outright condemnation of the bombing, recommitted himself to the peace process by saying it would be a tragedy if the hopes of people for lasting peace were dashed again by men of violence.
"This atrocity confirms again the urgent need to remove illegal arms from the equation," he said.
As a White House spokesman said efforts were being made to urge all the Northern Ireland parties to continue the search for peace, President Clinton said: "The terrorists who perpetrated today's attack cannot be allowed to derail the effort to bring peace to the people of Northern Ireland - a peace they overwhelmingly support."
David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said last night that he did not want to comment in detail until a full report had emerged from the police. But he asked in a reference to his and the government's proposal for a freshly elected body to handle all party talks: "Are elections such a threat that it drives them to violence? There are groups struggling all over the world to get elections. This one seems to be trying to prevent them."
John Bruton, the Irish Prime Minister, condemned the bombing as "entirely unjustified" and in a message clearly directed at Sinn Fein, called "on all those who may have influence on those responsible for this appalling act, to use that influence publicly as well as privately to ensure that no further acts of violence take place".
Michael Mates, a former Northern Ireland minister who maintains close links with the Government on Northern Ireland issues called the bomb "a huge tactical error" on the part of the IRA. He said that people throughout Northern Ireland, throughout the world, would be appalled by the explosion. He added: "If this turns out be an IRA bomb the most optimistic view we can take is that it is the work of a small wing of the IRA."
The bomb comes after a period of stand-off in the wake of the Mitchell report, in which John Major has been backing the Ulster Unionists plan for elections of a body which can provide the representation in all-party talks.