Washington grants visitor's visa to top Sinn Fein strategist

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The Independent Online
A TOP Sinn Fein strategist was in Washington yesterday after being granted a visa to the United States in the same week as the British government revealed an Iranian plot to supply the IRA with guns and money.

Mitchell McLaughlin, described as number three or four in the Sinn Fein leadership, held a meeting with Congressman Peter King - who helped arrange a visa for the US visit last February of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader.

US officials told the Independent the visa was granted last week, three days before the Foreign Office called in the Iranian charge d'affaires to tell him Iranian contacts with the IRA must cease. The Foreign Office was acting on British intelligence information that Iran was plotting to supply the IRA with guns and money after monitoring the contacts for up to a year - over the duration of the Anglo-Irish peace initiative.

Amid a mounting furore in Tehran, Iran yesterday called for the opening of an IRA office in Iran. In a thinly veiled reference to the fact that Britain harbours on its soil representatives of the anti-regime Mujahedin, the official newspaper Kahyan said: 'Our question from both the government and the Foreign Ministry is why we should not apply the quid pro quo principle and offer the same facilities to all UK oppositions, espcially the IRA.'

There was speculation last week that Britain's disclosure of the Iranian plot, which was also said to involve drugs money, would help to alienate pro-IRA opinion in America and stem the flow of Noraid funds to the organisation. The British government had objected to the US decision to give Mr Adams a platform during his high-profile visit three months ago.

British officials yesterday reiterated their success in nipping the Iran-IRA plot in the bud. 'The Iranians are now on notice that they are being watched, and that's the whole point,' one said.

Informed Iranian sources said the IRA turned down a request by Tehran to assassinate three leading Iranian dissidents in exchange for explosives, guns, missiles and cash. The Independent spoke to all three yesterday.

Farzaneh Taidi, a prominent Iranian actress exiled in London, said she had been threatened for several years - even before she angered the regime for her part in the 1991 film Not Without my Daughter, which depicts the plight of the American- born wife of an Iranian stranded in post-revolution Iran.

'They want to kill me and have already done it several times in their servile press,' she said. Another person on the hit list, the former Iranian president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, said: 'There is no doubt that they have close links with the IRA.'

A Foreign Office official said of Mr McLaughlin's US visit: 'It is for the Americans to decide who they will and will not admit'.

A US official said Mr McLaughlin had been given the visa on condition he did not engage in fundraising activities while in the US, and once it was established he was not known to have any personal involvement in terrorist activities. 'Membership of Sinn Fein, in and of itself, does not constitute an ineligibility to receive a US visa,' the official said.

But a State Department official said Mr McLaughlin had been granted the visa only to give a talk in Cleveland, Ohio, to the local City Club, or chamber of commerce. Congressman King had requested the meeting once Mr McLaughlin let it be known he was also passing through Washington.

'He has kind of stretched out his agenda a little bit,' the official added. The State Department only learnt of the Washington meeting after contacting Mr King's office yesterday.

A spokesman for Mr King told the Independent the Congressman 'has shown a great deal of interest in the question of occupied Ireland' and was always interested in hearing the point of view of all parties. He had 'visited the north 13 times'. A member of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Mr King 'was instrumental in securing a visa for Gerry Adams, and had known the latter for several years'. He added: 'Mr King and Mr Adams keep in close touch.'

Mr King has said he is seeking to secure a second visa for the Sinn Fein leader.

'Mr Adams did get publicity, but it was not the type of in-depth questioning to which he should have been subjected,' the Congressman said after the first visit. 'We as Americans feel we have the right to talk to whomever we want, if we are going to play a role in the process.' To many Americans the British appeared afraid of letting Mr Adams speak, Mr King added.

Ayatollah Mehdi Rouhani, the Paris-based spiritual head of Europe's Shia Muslims, arrived in London yesterday for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr Rouhani told the Independent he had been invited by George Carey to talks today on 'Islamic-Christian problems'.

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