Gerry Adams visa was a very close call - Ted Kennedy

09/15/2009 02:25 PM

Senator Edward Kennedy says that the Gerry Adams visaa awarded by the US government in 1994 was granted despite the best efforts of " powerful institutions" including the State Department and the British government.

In his memoir "True Compass," which was released after Kennedy's death on August 27, the senator reveals how close the effort came to collapsing.

He clearly spells out that the decision by the Clinton administration to award a U.S. visa to Gerry Adams in January 1994 was a far closer call than had previously been thought.

The Adams visa was pivotal in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland. It had a galvanizing effect on the peace process and helped lead to an IRA ceasefire a few months later.

Adams himself has admitted that the ceasefire might never have happened without the visa.

And on a personal level, Kennedy's memoir reminds me just how hard we worked to secure the visa - and how difficult it was to achieve.

Chief among the many opponents to the Adams visa was the U.S. State Department.

Kennedy describes the State Department as being "locked into a view of Adams as a terrorist, and the British Embassy which resented U.S. involvement in what it considered its home affairs.”

"We were going up against powerful institutions," writes Kennedy, "skilled in the many ways of derailing initiatives they didn’t like." Were we ever.

On January 26, 1994, Kennedy writes that he and Senator Chris Dodd “narrowly averted a White House denial of the visa by personally speaking with chief of staff Mac MacLarty and foreign policy advisor Sandy Berger.”

Then Kennedy says the State Department tried to derail the visa via a different route; by sending a challenge to Adams, a demand for two assurances that the department clearly believed Adams would reject.

"One was that Adams personally renounce violence….the other that Sinn Fein and the IRA were committed to ending the conflict on the basis of the joint declaration document.”

Here is where I came in. I was acting as the intermediary between Adams and the White House at the time and over the following 48 hours we sought a form of words that would satisfy all sides.

It was incredibly difficult. Adams, with good reason, was increasingly anxious that he was being set up by the State Department to make a statement that would damage him and that they would then refuse him the visa.

As Kennedy points, that certainly seemed to be the case.

When Adams was interviewed by the US Consul General in Belfast, the official Val Martinez told him “In my opinion there is no way you’ll get the visa.”

Adams was convinced he would not get the visa. He called me and I tried to explain to him that the State Department did not represent all the US government and that the political wing, ie the Clinton White House, was still in favor

Kennedy was deeply upset by the nonsense the State Department was pushing. He reveals (for the first time) that he called them and told them he would add language to the State Department authorization bill saying that Adams should be granted a visa.

They finally balked at that but the British were not done with their efforts.

As Kennedy recounts it; “hand grenades turned up in San Diego. Each one had a note affixed, demanding a visa for Adams.”

It was clearly the work of British dirty tricks trying to deny Adams at the last.

After a flurry of midnight phone calls that I participated in with Kennedy and Adams the Sinn Fein leader agreed to condemn the incident.

The visa was his and the peace process received an incredible boost.

It could never have happened without Kennedy. His memoir is self-effacing but it affirms that fact.

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