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Adams serves soundbites from Big Apple: Peter Pringle, in New York, sees Sinn Fein's model of reasonableness work the hungry media

THE Land of Liberty rose to the occasion of Gerry Adams's visit in the way it knows best: put the famous foreign guest on a television talk show. Britain's gagging order had never looked sillier.

A few hours after he flew in, the Sinn Fein leader was trying to explain to an untutored Larry King, the Cable News Network host, the devilish details of the Irish problem. The normally clear-headed Mr King was somewhat befuddled, as well he might be. Was Mr Adams actually renouncing violence?

'I want to take the gun out of Irish politics, the gun that was brought into our affairs by the British,' Mr Adams, looking suitably non-violent in a dark blue jacket and tie with a white shirt, said. 'I want to see the IRA disarmed.' Mr King pressed on: 'But are you publicly calling for an end to all violence of any kind?'

'I have already called on a number of occasions for all the forces involved to seek a demilitarisation situation,' his guest replied, calmly. The problem as always, he said, was that it seemed impossible to get all the various parties around the table at one time.

That has never been a problem for CNN, of course. Spotting a scoop and a trip to Ireland, Mr King asked: 'If we (CNN) were to come to Belfast, would you sit down with all the parties and tell the world what's going on?' More than that, offered Mr Adams. 'You'd be very welcome, I'd also buy you a pint of Guinness in the Falls Road.'

'I won't be shot, then?' asked Mr King.

'No, no, you'll have your pint of Guinness.'

And so it went, the trail of Mr Adams across Manhattan from one TV appearance to another, a speech, then one press conference to another, and then a rally with Irish-American supporters, all packed into the hectic 48 hours President Clinton had decided was enough time for Gerry Adams to make his point.

It was better than any fund-raising event, which is strictly forbidden by the visa conditions. According to a spokesman for Noraid, the republican Irish aid group, people were calling in from all over the country pledging support, but - of course - only after Mr Adams had returned to Ireland.

For a man billed as a friend, even a director, of terrorists, Mr Adams projected a studied reasonableness, and a cautious optimism about the chances of peace. It was true, he told his eager listeners, he had been held in prison without trial, beaten by British troops, shot by enemies, but he was not vindictive. He would meet and sit down with his attackers, and with the Ulster Unionists he opposed.

The soundbites had been carefully selected. Everyone, including President Clinton, who had been involved in getting him a visa, was to be 'commended'. Peace in Northern Ireland had never been 'more realisable' than at present, and the 'final phase' of the negotiations had been reached.

'I will go the extra mile,' Mr Adams said. He and Sinn Fein, which the Daily News felt obliged to spell out phonetically for its uninformed readers, stood for nothing but 'a negotiated settlement' of the Anglo-Irish crisis.

At the appropriate moment, four bipartisan members of Congress appeared with Mr Adams. They praised Mr Clinton for 'breaking the conspiracy of silence' surrounding the Irish question.

'So many people have wanted to hear from Gerry Adams for so long,' one said. And Mr Adams spoke again for the cameras and the tape recorders. And CNN, having earlier said it would respect British ban on his voice and not beam Larry King across the Atlantic, changed its mind.

After all, the President himself had approved the visit, and the big thing about the 'peace process' was to keep it going. Wasn't it?

(Photograph omitted)