GERRY ADAMS has been saying a lot of the right things and meeting a lot of the right people during his coast-to-coast tour of the United States. He has done his job so well, in fact, that those with other thoughts on how to proceed toward peace in Northern Ireland need to start playing some catch up.
It has been a historic two-week trip for Mr. Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. The White House lifted a ban on talking with his organization, previously designated as a terrorist group. Vice President Gore telephoned Adams briefly, the highest-level contact with a US official. President Clinton, appropriately, did not meet him; but national security adviser Anthony Lake issued a warm statement calling the IRA cease-fire ``a courageous step forward for peace.''
The White House is trying to calibrate a response to the IRA that will hand out more and more rewards as the IRA cease-fire holds. According to press reports, it overruled some at the State Department who feel the administration is moving too fast.
Adams spoke often on this trip of the need to leave the past behind and move ahead quickly with peace talks. He has struck a conciliatory tone toward Unionists, appealing to ``my Protestant brothers and sisters'' and acknowledging ``the hurt that Republicans have inflicted as part of the struggle for freedom. We have no monopoly on suffering ....''
These are the right words. But right actions must follow. For its part, the Ulster Unionist Party sent spokesman Ken Maginnis to the US to debate Adams on national television. Mr. Maginnis summed up much unionist and British sentiment when he said, ``I most certainly do not trust Gerry.''
Adams warms many hearts when he says the once impossible is now possible in Northern Ireland. But, after years of bloodshed, caution from longtime enemies is understandable. Patience will be the watchword.