Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Thursday four nights of rioting in Northern Ireland will not disrupt the Irish Republican Army's disarmament process.
"I am confident the commitment made by the IRA will be honored," Adams said after a meeting with 11 members of the U.S. Congress. Adams' party is linked to the IRA.
"I think that opens up an enormous opportunity for all of us but also presents a huge challenge."
The IRA, which has observed a cease-fire since 1997, announced July 28 it has formally abandoned its campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland by force and will soon resume disarmament.
Britain in response immediately began dismantling more army bases and pledged to cut its Northern Ireland garrison in half to 5,000 troops within the next two years.
Hard-line Protestants, who oppose the peace process saying it has produced too many concessions to Roman Catholics, this week vented their anger in riots across Belfast and several other towns. Mobs blocked roads, hijacked and burned more than 120 vehicles and attacked police and British soldiers with gunfire and grenades. More than 80 police officers were wounded.
Adams said responsibility for the riots "lies squarely with the unionists," who want to maintain British rule in the province.
He said the Democratic Unionists, led by Ian Paisley, must engage in dialogue to bring about a power-sharing administration with Sinn Fein. But Paisley has refused to open negotiations until he had proof the IRA had fully disarmed and disbanded.
Rep. Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who hosted the closed-door meeting with Adams, said all present agreed that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would play a pivotal role in getting talks on power sharing going again.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat and co-chairman of a congressional committee on Irish affairs, said a political solution in Northern Ireland was the only way forward.
"The unionists first and foremost must put an end to the pattern of violence and intimidation," he said. "The level of criminality has reached a breaking point and the people of Northern Ireland deserve a concerted effort toward peace."
Adams said he also planned a meeting with Sen. Hillary Clinton during his trip.
The State Department said Adams also met Thursday with its officials, AP reported.
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