By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the Northern Ireland peace process stalls in the face of a continuing impasse over weapons decommissioning, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said in Washington that he "can’t deliver" on demands that the IRA turn in some of its weapons. He said he did not have the influence necessary with the IRA to commit to actions on its behalf.
Referring to a meeting in Washington with Ulster Unionist Party leader and the North’s First Minister David Trimble, Adams said that Trimble asked for "an event" at which time a quantity of IRA weapons would be handed over to the commission set up to oversee disarmament.
No way, Adams told Trimble. To hand over weapons prior to taking Sinn Féin’s position in the executive was tantamount to capitulating, Adams said.
In the residence portion of the White House, with the St. Patrick’s Day celebration swirling in the rooms beside them, Trimble outlined for Adams exactly what he has been looking for on decommissioning.
The UUP leader and his Sinn Féin nemesis’ discussion over the necessary steps that would make Sinn Féin’s admittance to the Northern Ireland executive palatable to Unionists was the most important moment of the week-long celebration in Washington.
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Trimble told Adams that if there was an absolute assurance of some decommissioning immediately following the formation of the executive, and with Sinn Féin installed in their positions, Trimble could move forward, sources told the Echo.
"Once the process was started, everything would have to fall into place for it to work," said one UUP official here.
Trimble left Washington feeling successful. "Although Gerry Adams gave conflicting statements in his press conference the next day [Thursday], David felt good because it became fairly clear that work was started to get the plan accepted," said the official.
Despite Adams’s assertion that he "can’t deliver" on IRA decommissioning, he did try to sound somewhat conciliatory as he explained his dialogue with Trimble. He said the meeting allowed him to receive the "clearest definition yet of what he requires," but Adams described the demand "a complete hindrance and precondition."
Surrounded by his strongest congressional advocates, Reps. Peter King, Joe Crowley, and Richard Neal, Adams methodically repeated what he said on each day of his visit here, "As I stand here, I simply can’t deliver that."
IRA may bend
But Adams also offered a rhetorical token toward the possibility of accepting the proposed plan of events. He said if Sinn Féin representatives were to start working in government alongside Unionists, the IRA may bend in its previous intractable position against decommissioning.
Sinn Féin was ready to "make an accommodation on this issue that satisfies the Unionist Party," Adams said.
The next important step would be for Trimble to accept an IRA statement. The statement might not make everyone happy, Adams said, but it would be a start. "I want Mr. Trimble in the loop before I stretch the republican constituency once again," Adams said. "I am prepared to stretch. I am prepared to reach out. But I want to make sure that Mr. Trimble and I jump together on this."
Adams warned during his news conference that the future of the new Northern Ireland government should not be hinged on the actions of the IRA. He said he simply did not have the influence necessary with that organization to commit to actions on its behalf.
Trimble had evidently used up all his patience with Adams after their private meeting. He left the St. Patrick’s Day reception in the middle of the ceremony bestowing former Senator George Mitchell with the Medal of Freedom and remarks by President Clinton.
White House officials said privately that they understood Adams’s stand, and that his reaction to the proposal offered by Trimble was "not a great surprise and shouldn’t have been a great surprise to anyone."
Clinton advisors said there was some progress during the White House dialogues that led them to be optimistic. They described the tenor of the conversation between the two opposing leaders to have been less belligerent than in the past, and that there was an understanding by both men that some compromise was going to have to be found.
The discovery of one was just not to happen here.
Trimble picked up on a theme the White House outlined in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.
"There is no alternative other than to work within the accord," he said.
The one point of agreement among all the visiting politicians this week was that their work together started here would continue once they returned to Northern Ireland.
During the annual presentation of shamrock in a crystal bowl in a sun-drenched Rose Garden, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said his job in the coming weeks was to try to fortify the relationships developed over the last two years of negotiating to see final implementation of the agreement.
"We have reached the point only where one obstacle remains blocking the progress of the agreement and to the launch of the new political institutions which our people have mandated," the Taoiseach said.
"The current impasse between the launch of these new initiatives, some progress on decommissioning, shows that there is still a serious deficit of trust which we must now strive to overcome," Ahern said. "We have all come too far to let this apparent impasse undo the enormous progress that has been made."