As news of his letter emerged, the Prime Minister yesterday sought to avert the row over Mr Adams becoming a crisis in his relationship with Mr Clinton, which has never been warm. Tory party members were implicated in the Republicans' unsuccessful presidential campaign against him.
Confirming he had no intention of cancelling his visit to Washington on 2-4 April, Mr Major said he and Mr Clinton shared "an overwhelming degree of mutual interest". At a press conference in Jerusalem, where the Adams row was raised, Mr Major did not refer to the "special relationship" with the US.
Instead, he stressed the "huge degree of common interests" which that nation had with Britain in Europe, including Nato, the Middle East and the G7 group of industrial nations.
Mr Major refused to disclose the contents of the letter, sent last Friday after Mr Clinton confirmed he was allowing Mr Adams a visa to make the visit and lifting the ban on Sinn Fein raising funds.
Senior British officials indicated Mr Major had told Mr Clinton that Sinn Fein had used the word "decommissioning" last Thursday for the first time and they should be expected "to deliver on the word they have used".
Unless Sinn Fein agree to the decommissioning of IRA weapons, the prospect of exploratory talks with British ministers is being ruled out. "Sinn Fein has not met the conditions, so for the moment this doesn't arise," the source added.
Mr Major said: "If Mr Adams is concerned about peace, then he has no need of weapons and no reason not to enter into the modalities of decommissioning.
"What we are saying to Sinn Fein is let us discuss not just broad waffly views about what one actually needs to do about the disposal of arms - let's discuss the practical modalities of disposing of the arms."
In London, Tory backbench support for an Ulster Unionist Commons early- day motion - calling for no ministerial meetings with Sinn Fein until "huge" progress had been made on decommissioning IRA weapons - appeared to be crumbling.
Andrew Hunter, chairman of the Tory Northern Ireland backbench committee, had been expected to back the motion or even table it himself last night. But few Tories appeared to be willing to support the move. The likelihood last evening was that the tabling of the motion, drawn up by Ken Maginnis MP, would be delayed until Mr Maginnis returned to Westminster today.
Last night, Mr Hunter emerged from a ministerial meeting objecting to the word "huge", which has never been uttered by the Prime Minister as the motion suggests, and pressing for current Government policy - that there should be meaningful talks about substantial progress towards decommissioning - to be added.
James Cran, the MP for Beverley and a joint vice-chairman of the committee, said the number of Tory MPs who would sign such a motion could be "counted on the fingers of one hand".
Mr Major appeared visibly moved when he visited a Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem yesterday with his wife, Norma. He laid a wreath in memory of the Jews murdered in 22 concentration camps, and wrote in the visitors' book: "Those who forget the past may be condemned to relive it."
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