After a 40-minute meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street, Mr Hume, who produced a joint initiative with Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, said the hopes for peace had 'not run out of steam'. But he made it clear that Mr Major had refused to agree to clarify the declaration, in spite of apparent movement by the Irish government.
Mr Hume is expected to report to Mr Adams, who is still the subject of an exclusion order. The Home Office yesterday said the order, issued in October by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, had not been lifted. It prevents Mr Adams from travelling to Britain from Belfast.
In spite of the disclosure of communications with the IRA and Sinn Fein last year, Mr Major's office confirmed that the Prime Minister had refused to clarify the declaration, on the ground that it would not negotiate with terrorists.
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Major told Mr Hume 'there is no need for clarification - what is needed is a positive response from Sinn Fein and a permanent end to violence'.
Ministers are pessimistic about the likelihood of the IRA ending violence. They believe the IRA army council is split, and Mr Adams has failed to persuade the hawks to accept the peace process on offer. However, they have decided against a security crackdown on the IRA.
Ministers fear that such action would backfire on the Government, and destroy the international support for the Downing Street declaration which has put the IRA on the defensive. 'We are prepared to be patient, and wait as long as it takes,' a ministerial source said.
Ministers believe that Mr Adams has demanded clarification to get the IRA off the defensive. The Government is preparing to intensify the pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA by raising the momentum of the inter-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland, from which Mr Adams and his party are excluded until agreeing to end the violence.
Michael Ancram, Minister of State for Northern Ireland, met Ulster Unionist leaders on Thursday and is due to hold further talks to bring the party leaders to the table. Mr Hume has agreed to meet Mr Ancram on 24 January.
However, Mr Hume said he did not detect any pessimism in Mr Major's tone. 'I was very encouraged by the fact that our problem is right at the top of the Prime Minister's agenda,' he said.Reuse content