Sinn Fein leader poised to be given visa for US

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IN A move certain to infuriate the Government, the Clinton administration appeared yesterday to be close to granting a US visa to Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA.

Mr Adams has been invited to speak at a foreign policy conference on Northern Ireland in New York next Tuesday, and the signs were that a powerful pro-Adams lobby in Congress, headed by two of the most powerful members of the Senate, would prevail over the strenuous objections of the Government in London.

For weeks now, Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts have been urging President Bill Clinton to grant the visa, insisting that it would enhance, not undermine, the peace process under way.

Conditions may be attached to the visa, including an insistence that Mr Adams did nothing to rally support for the IRA while in the United States, and that he spoke out for the peace process.

In the past, Washington has rejected applications for visas made by Sinn Fein's president on the ground that he is linked to a terrorist organisation.

Downing Street last night urged the Clinton administration to reject the visa appeal. The Prime Minister's office said that the two governments had been in contact about the application. It was a decision for the US government, said a source. 'We would hope that the visa would not be given to Gerry Adams unless he made a clear, unequivocal renunciation of violence.'

British and Irish foreign ministers will seek to put more pressure on Sinn Fein to accept the Downing Street declaration at an Anglo-Irish conference in Dublin.

The two sides are expected to give their support to the efforts by Michael Ancram, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, to bring the democratic parties to the table, but the Dublin government is pressing the British not to 'rock the boat' by hastily convening the talks before the Sinn Fein annual conference next month, when their response to the peace initiative will be decided.