Desperate, final attempts were made by the British in an effort to prevent Gerry Adams getting a visa to the US in 1994, confidential files released on Friday reveal.
The BBC reports that the Sinn Fein president had been asked by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) to speak at a conference on Northern Ireland in New York, but there were concerns in Washington and at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) about granting Adams a visa while the IRA campaign continued in Northern Ireland.
Adams’ invitation from the NCAFP came a month after the Downing Street Declaration issued on December 15 by UK prime minister John Major and Ireland’s Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.
The letter from the NCAFP, dated January 4, said Northern Ireland "is of great interest to Americans, especially those 44 million of Irish descent who are drawn almost equally from the two great traditions of Ireland.”
David Fell, a senior Stormont official, described NCAFP as a prestigious body in a note to Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew.
He said he learned from Val Martinez, the US consul general in Belfast, that the US administration was divided on the question of whether it was "sensible” to try and give Adams help in selling the declaration to the “hard men in the Provisional IRA.”
On January 15, Sir Robin Renwick, the British ambassador to Washington, informed the NIO that Senator Ted Kennedy, along with three other senators had appealed to President Clinton to grant a visa to Adams.
They claimed that "the Hume-Adams dialogue and the British government's contacts with the IRA [revealed in November 1993] had changed things.”
After hearing there was a split within the IRA, the senators believe a visa to the US might help Adams win support for “his moderate position.”
Renwick told the NIO he had left "Kennedy's people in no doubt of our views.”
"Adams knew that if he and the organisations he represented renounced violence, and meant it, they would be welcome to join in the political process," he said.
However, "it was wrong in principle and wrong tactically to reward Adams before he had taken that step.”
The BBC reports that in a further telex to London, Renwick said that the fight for Adams' visa was "by no means won" and that the State Department, FBI and Justice Department were all advising against it.
He added: "Domestic political advisers and the White House were liable to be influenced by the Kennedy/Moynihan intervention and that the fact that the Irish PM was raising no objection."
Downing Street then decided that "the White House needed stiffening against political pressures to grant a visa to Adams on unacceptably soft conditions.”
Roderic Lyne, Prime Minister John Major's private secretary, made several attempts to contact US national security advisor Tony Lake.
"I told Lake's secretary on the secure telephone that private indications suggested strongly that the Provisionals had decided not to accept the Joint Declaration as it stood and were deliberately stringing us and the Irish government along in the hope of obtaining concessions - hence their call for 'clarification'," he said.
"I added that Sinn Féin was likely to increase the level of violence. It would surely be embarrassing for the Americans if they let Adams in, only to find IRA violence was increasing."
Lake contacted Downing Street on January 22, confirming that a conditional visa would be granted if Adams publicly stated that he personally renowned violence and urged all parties to do so, that Sinn Fein and the IRA were prepared "to participate in serious negotiations to end the conflict,” and that he accepted the Joint Declaration as a basis.
In a last attempt to block the visa, Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew met with Ray Seitz, the US ambassador to Britain, on January 25.
Sir Patrick Mayhew tried to persuade the ambassador: "The fact was Adams had to renounce violence. Granting this favour before that would be completely wrong - in NI terms and also dangerous in terms of the US-UK relationship."
However, the last-ditch effort had failed. On January 27, the NIO informed him that the US would be issuing a visa to Adams the next day.