Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's president, was seeking 'back-door' talks, Mr Major insisted, while signalling that his patience while waiting for a response was wearing thin.
While that stance provoked criticism in Dublin, with Dermot Ahern, joint chairman of the British-Irish interparliamentary body, claiming the British government was being 'disingenuous', Mr Smith said there was a danger of negotiations 'under the guise of so- called clarification' before violence had been abandoned.
Mr Ahern told Irish radio the republican movement was being asked to turn over 25 years overnight. 'It is a bit disingenuous for the British to refuse to enter into any clarification when they were negotiating with Sinn Fein and the IRA without anyone knowing.'
John Hume, the SDLP leader, strongly urged at the weekend that the request should be granted.Reuse content