By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Clinton and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams are expected to confer in the White House Wednesday as pressure mounts on the IRA to begin the process of arms decommissioning.
The Irish Times reported Monday that Ulster Unionist Party leader and North First Minister David Trimble "will be counting" on Clinton to press Adams on the matter of decommissioning during the White House session.
Trimble last month met with Clinton in the White House and appealed to him to make a public statement requesting the IRA to move ahead with decommissioning.
Adams, meanwhile, will be accompanied to Washington by Martin McGuinness, the recently appointed minister for education in the governing Northern Ireland Executive. Also in the Sinn Féin delegation will be Caoimghín O Caolaín TD.
The Washington visit marks the first time a Sinn Féin member has traveled to Washington as a Northern Ireland minister.
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Sinn Fein officials said the White House meeting would involve a request that Clinton help "maintain the focus" of the White House as the February deadline imposed by Trimble for some sort of IRA arms decommissioning creeps closer.
In addition to the appointment at the White House, McGuinness will meet his U.S. counterpart, Education Secretary Richard Riley, on Friday.
The White House was careful not to show its hand on decommissioning in the run-up to the Adams-Clinton talks. "We encourage all the parties to continue to uphold the commitments outlined in the Good Friday agreement," said White House spokesman, David Leavy.
The White House is particularly sensitive to the fragile nature of the new political institutions in the North. With the threat made by Trimble to bring down the fledgling government if the IRA refuses to start decommissioning by the end of January, Clinton is expected work extra hard in the coming days for a successful outcome in an arena he has devoted much time and effort to during his presidency.
Clinton is expected to press home his efforts to secure a lasting settlement with another visit to Ireland this year. May is now the month considered most likely for such a trip, although much in this regard depends on progress on decommissioning.
Following the Washington talks, meanwhile, the Sinn Féin delegation will travel to New York. On Thursday evening, the group will address supporters at a public rally in Manhattan. The delegation will not include, as earlier expected, North Health Minister Bairbre de Brun, who is being detained in Northern Ireland by pressing ministerial business.