Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, in his first stop during a week-long visit to the United States, stressed his belief on Saturday that the Irish Republican Army will one day cease to exist.
Adams reiterated what he told a Sinn Fein party conference a week ago that, "We in Sinn Fein want to see the IRA ceasing to be. I have said that I do think we'll see the day when there is no IRA."
The head of the IRA's political ally began his visit under fire on both sides of the Atlantic over his party's ties to the guerrilla group, which has been accused of robbing a bank and shielding the killers of a Roman Catholic man in Northern Ireland.
But Adams said he was unaware that a State Department official called on Friday for the political party to make a "clear break" with the IRA to restore the progress made toward a united Northern Irish government, based on equality between Catholics and Protestants.
Adams is scheduled for a meeting with that official, special envoy Mitchell Reiss, in Washington on Wednesday. Reiss said the party must sever its links to the outlawed group, which remains armed despite its cease-fire.
"It hard to understand how a European country in the year 2005 can have a private army associated with a political party.
"I'd be surprised if he did make that a condition for achieving progress in the peace process, but I'm looking forward to meeting with him," Adams told a news conference.
He said he was disappointed but not offended that he was not invited to meet with President Bush at the White House on Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, when the president traditionally gets together with Irish Government leaders.
But he sidestepped any public denunciation of the IRA, saying Sinn Fein stands for peace and harmony among all Irish people. Adams told a social gathering of about 100 Irish-American supporters in Cincinnati that the recent murder of a Catholic man in Belfast, purportedly by elements of the IRA, was a "heinous, disgraceful act."
He said Sinn Fein stands firmly in support of the family of the victim.
At the get-together at a downtown hotel penthouse bistro, Adams appealed to his audience to use all of its influence to get the US Government involved in helping restore a dialogue between the two sides.
Adams took issue with the notion in some quarters that Sinn Fein is losing popularity with many of its former backers.
He said a by-election in a suburban Dublin district on Friday showed that the party is actually gaining in support, even though its candidate ran third.
Noting that this is the 100th anniversary year of the founding of Sinn Fein, Adams said that the party's foes recognize that "Sinn Fein is a growing vehicle" and the majority of Irish people support its objectives.