Adams hits at ceasefire 'tomfoolery' by Major

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THE SINN FEIN president Gerry Adams last night abandoned the diplomatic language of the peace process by calling the Prime Minister a 'tomfool'. Mr Adams said John Major was just playing with words by demanding the IRA include the word 'permanent' in its ceasefire declaration.

In his first major television interview since the broadcast ban was lifted, Mr Adams's name-calling - a tomfool is clumsy and witless - will not help ease tensions caused by the continuing semantic arguments over the ceasefire wording. Mr Adams, speaking on Channel 4 News, said Mr Major was merely 'engaging in a deflecting exercise'.

Mr Adams's comment comes as the focus on the Irish peace process switches to the United States. The SDLP leader, John Hume, is currently in Washington. Mr Adams is expected to arrive at the weekend, his visa application sanctioned by the President.

The visits effectively recognise that the Clinton administration now regards itself as a major player in Anglo-Irish politics.

Mr Hume, spending four days in Washington, yesterday had an hour-long meeting at the White House with President Bill Clinton and Vice- President Al Gore.

Foreign investment, special transatlantic status for Northern Ireland and border areas and refinement of future economic aid packages were on Mr Hume's agenda.

After the talks, Mr Hume said President Clinton had 'underlined that his interest is to see that the different traditions reach agreement'. The US administration is said to have given assurances that Mr Adams's itinerary will not include a handshake with President Clinton on the White House lawn. However, he is likely to meet Congress and National Security Council members. He is due to arrive in Boston and visit other cities before going to Washington on 3 October.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Ulster Unionist Party is due in Washington today for a two-day visit, specifically at the invitation of the Vice-President. The Democratic Unionist Party has no immediate plans to visit.

Sinn Fein and a number of other groups are planning to open lobbying offices in Washington. The move is seen as part of republican plans to distance them from Noraid, the fund-raising group which has fallen from favour with Sinn Fein.