WASHINGTON -- Both the U.S. Embassy in London and the State Department recommended that Gerry Adams be denied a visa, but President Clinton decided to admit the Irish republican leader to the United States anyway, mainly for domestic political reasons, U.S. officials said yesterday.
In announcing the decision Sunday, the White House said that Mr. Adams, who heads Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, had made encouraging remarks about renouncing violence at a meeting Friday with U.S. diplomats in Belfast.
But British and American officials familiar with the results of the meeting hotly dispute that, asserting that Mr. Adams merely repeated ambiguous formulations in answer to precise questions.
A White House official confirmed that Mr. Clinton had made the decision personally and conceded that he had been influenced, in part, by the fact that Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, among others, strongly lobbied for the admission of Mr. Adams.
Though reluctant to make inflammatory remarks in public, senior tTC British officials have reacted with fury to the president's decision, complaining bitterly to Americans in Washington and in London. British newspapers called the admission of Mr. Adams the end of the British-American "special relationship."
Answering questions in the Oval Office yesterday afternoon, Mr. Clinton defended his action as "an appropriate thing to do." He added, "I did believe that by giving Mr. Adams this visa, this limited visa to come here, we might have a constructive role in pushing the peace process, which is why I did it."
The Irish leader arrived in New York City on Monday for a conference on Northern Ireland at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel yesterday. His visa requires him to leave today.
Mr. Moynihan and Mr. Kennedy, both Irish-Americans, both liberal Democrats, head Senate committees whose cooperation is essential to the passage of the president's health care and welfare reform programs.
"The president obviously gets a political dividend by accommodating Pat and Teddy on this," a White House tactician said. "But he also thought that this was a risk worth taking on its own merits, because it just might help the peace process in Northern Ireland. The only downside is that it obviously ticks off the Brits, but equally obviously, that is acceptable to a lot of us."
Many of Mr. Clinton's backers and aides were infuriated during the 1992 campaign when the Conservative Party of Prime Minister John Major tried to help President George Bush win re-election. That wound has not yet healed.
But the administration adopted a conciliatory tone yesterday. After Douglas Hurd, the British foreign secretary met with Vice President Al Gore in Washington yesterday, the White House issued a statement that spoke at length of "the importance that the U.S. attaches to close cooperation with our British ally on a range of global issues on which our common values and interests unite us."
For his part, Mr. Hurd was considerably less soothing. Asserting bluntly that Mr. Adams "has refused to repudiate violence," he said there was no role for him in the peace talks until he did. What Mr. Adams said Friday, Mr. Hurd told a news conference, amounted to nothing more than "ambiguity and evasion."
Mr. Major and Albert Reynolds, the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland, issued a joint declaration Dec. 15 intended to provide a framework for ending the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein was guaranteed a part in the negotiations that are eventually to follow, but only if it renounced the use of violence.
So far, Mr. Adams has issued no public statement containing such a renunciation. At the meeting in Belfast with American consular officers on Friday, officials said, he commented only that he opposed the killing of innocent civilian bystanders.
"In the vocabulary of this conflict," said a senior British official, furious like many other Britons but still declining to permit the use of his name, "his solicitude about what he graciously calls innocent civilians means that he endorses the killing of civilians whom the IRA considers culpable and any British serviceman."
Discussing the process by which Mr. Adams was granted a waiver permitting the issuance of a visa, a top State Department official said that after the Friday meeting, the department concluded that what Mr. Adams had said "did not clear the bar, as far as we were concerned," and Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher so informed Mr. Clinton.
But after a lengthy discussion between the two, he was overruled and told to recommend the issuance of a visa to Attorney General Janet Reno.
In addition to the London Embassy and the State Department, officials in Washington said, the CIA had recommended against issuing the visa.
The forces arrayed in support of Mr. Adams were considerable. In addition to Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Moynihan, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., and more than three dozen other members of Congress sent a petition to the president.