The decision to table proposals for devolved government, including an elected assembly, is in line with earlier indications from John Major that he would not wait indefinitely for an IRA response.
The planned timing may renew tensions between London and the Irish government, which is pressing Whitehall to hold off any new initiative until after the Sinn Fein annual conference, which is not expected to begin until 25 February.
British frustration over the IRA's failure to respond positively to the declaration has been compounded by Gerry Adams's highly publicised trip to the United States, made possible by President Bill Clinton granting him a visa - a decision which threatened to undermine Anglo-American relations.
Leaving New York last night, the Sinn Fein president promised that 'those who had stuck out their necks' for him - he was apparently including President Clinton - 'would not be let down'.
In a farewell press conference, he was asked whether he owed a debt to Mr Clinton for letting him into the country and whether he would try to bridge the gap between Irish nationalists and London and Dublin. Mr Adams replied: 'They didn't do a deal with me . . . they did it with good will and I will respond with good will.'
He added that he did not see whatever happens next as a 'quid pro quo . . . It's hard to make peace, it needs political will.'
Some Irish officials have also been backing the calls by John Hume, the Social and Democratic Labour Party leader, for Britain to accede to Mr Adams's request for 'clarification' of the declaration.
Downing Street registered anger earlier yesterday at 'the smokescreen of evasions and falsehoods' delivered in the US by Mr Adams, warning that the peace process 'cannot and will not wait for Sinn Fein'. A senior official said that it was 'complete nonsense for Adams to claim that the ball was at Britain's feet'. Downing Street emphasised that the IRA had not had the courage to take up the challenge of entering the democratic process.
Amid political recriminations over the granting of a visa to Mr Adams, Ray Seitz, the US ambassador in London, admitted that the President had 'taken a chance' by admitting him and that there had been a 'big tussle' within the Administration. 'A lot of people argued against it and a lot of people argued for it.'
It was an open secret in London and Washington last night that President Clinton overruled the State Department and his London ambassador. But Mr Seitz said that it would need a 'very convincing cause' to get another visa.
Mr Adams left Irish-Americans to keep alive the propaganda blitz of his tumultuous visit to New York. On the surface, it could not have gone much better for Mr Adams, who made a whole new set of instant friends if he did not actually influence them.
The legacy is not so certain. Exactly what Americans will be saying in the weeks and months to come about Mr Adams depends not only on the instant impression they gained during his New York crusade, but what happens next.
Despite his visa ban on fund-raising, the visit is expected to lead to a flow of funds into the coffers of Noraid, the US aid group for Northern Ireland. Officers were reporting phones ringing non-stop at its Manhattan headquarters, but were waiting until Mr Adams's departure before talking about the sums
Noraid confirmed last night that Mr Adams had been taken on a tour of the city on Tuesday night by a convicted IRA member, Francis Gildernew, who was sentenced in 1976 in Northern Ireland to 12 years for possession of explosives and five years for being a member of a proscribed organisation. Mr Gildernew owns a bar in the city.
US rift played down, page 2
Leading article; Letters, page 19
Andrew Marr, page 21
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