Clinton and Major stay at arms' length

Click to follow
Sunday's transatlantic telephone conversation between John Major and the US President, Bill Clinton, has failed to dispel the impression of a frost in relations between Downing Street and the White House, after the row over President Clinton's meeting with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein.

In spite of efforts to preserve the appearance of friendly relations with Mr Clinton, the Prime Minister's office faced further embarrassment when Mr Adams returned to Ireland yesterday and said that the crucial issue of decommissioning IRA weapons had not been raised by the US Government.

US officials in Washington said Mr Clinton had told Mr Major that President Clinton's security adviser, Anthony Lake, had discussed the decommissioning of IRA weapons with Mr Adams. "Clinton said we had pushed Adams on it and would continue to do so, publicly and privately," a White House official said.

But, Mr Adams, when asked if he had agreed in his meetings with Mr Clinton, or separately with Mr Lake, to discuss decommissioning weapons, said: "The issue wasn't raised."

The Prime Minister's office, in effect, accused Mr Adams of lying. It said the President had told the Prime Minister that the US government "had made clear to Sinn Fein" there should be serious discussion of decommissioning before Sinn Fein was admitted to talks with other parties. The Sinn Fein leader's remarks were calculated to destabilise the shaky understanding between President Clinton and Mr Major.

The British Government remains sceptical of the assurances on fund-raising and arms accepted by Mr Clinton, whose invitation to Mr Adams was condemned as a "mistake" by the former Northern Ireland minister, Michael Mates.

Britain is concerned Sinn Fein's fund-raising in the US will be used to restock IRA arsenals, although Mr Clinton assured Mr Major the US would ensure Sinn Fein's funds would be subjected to proper auditing.

Downing Street denied claims by the Sinn Fein leader, Martin McGuinness, that there would be a meeting within a fortnight with British ministers. British officials said there would be no meeting unless Sinn Fein moved further towards a commitment to decommission IRA weapons.

Clinton gives London a miss,

page 13