THE British government intends to produce new proposals on Northern Ireland with the aim of wresting back the political and propaganda initiative believed to have been gained by Irish activist Gerry Adams on his visit to the United States last week.
In a parallel move, Prime Minister John Major will try to repair damage done to relations between London and Washington caused by President Clinton's decision to allow Mr. Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist group, to travel to New York, despite strong British opposition.
Sir Patrick Mayhew, Britain's secretary for Northern Ireland affairs, says fresh peace proposals will include:
* Creation of a Northern Ireland assembly and a formula that would let the province's constitutional parties exercise power in the province, which is currently under direct rule from London.
* New steps aimed at tightening security on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Many terrorist acts in the province are the work of IRA members based in the republic who cross the border to attack targets.
British officials say a prime aim of the new initiative will be to put pressure on Adams to join the peace process outlined last December by the British and Irish governments in a declaration issued from 10 Downing Street.
Adams is also being urged by John Hume, leader of the mainly Roman Catholic Social Democratic and Liberal Party (SDLP), to respond to the declaration within the next three weeks.
Secret talks between Adams and Mr. Hume late last year paved the way for the Downing Street peace formula.
In the aftermath of Adams's 48-hour visit to New York, British officials are working hard to disguise their anger that a man regarded in London as the unrepentant leader of a terrorist movement should have been given huge media exposure in the US. One government source spoke of the Clinton administration's ``naive folly'' in issuing a visa to the Sinn Fein leader.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who was in the US during the Adams visit, was nettled by the fact that Adams gave eight TV appearances, five press conferences, and several speeches, while Mr. Hurd was virtually ignored by the US media.
Foreign Office officials are stressing the need to mend fences with Mr. Clinton, and note that Mr. Major is due to visit Washington later this month for talks with the president.
The new moves promised by Sir Patrick, the Northern Ireland secretary, will be a follow-up to exploratory talks involving leaders of the province's constitutional parties and suspended at the end of 1992 because of lack of progress.
The 1992 talks excluded Sinn Fein, but British officials say the London government hopes Adams may decide to take part in the new round of discussions now being proposed.
REPORTS from Dublin yesterday suggested that Albert Reynolds, the Irish prime minister, was gloomy about the prospects of Sinn Fein responding favorably to the Downing Street declaration.
Mr. Reynolds signed the declaration along with Major and is said by his officials to be keen to see positive results. Last month, Reynolds lifted a long-standing ban on the broadcasting of statements by Adams and other Sinn Fein and IRA members.
Now, however, the Irish prime minister is reportedly impatient that there has been no reciprocal move from Adams, who continues to demand ``clarification'' of the Downing Street declaration. Reynolds and Major have both consistently refused to clarify the declaration and are insisting that Adams accept the text as it stands.
Sinn Fein plans to hold its annual conference at the end of February. London and Dublin officials are saying privately that if Adams does not accept the Downing Street formula by then, it can be presumed to have been rejected.