Envoy declines Sinn Fein meeting

US special envoy Mitchell Reiss declined a meeting

The US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, has declined to meet Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, US sources have told the BBC.

Mr Kelly was visiting the State Department on Tuesday, but was granted a meeting with lower level officials.

The MLA is in America to give Sinn Fein's perspective on the political scene since the £26.5m bank robbery.

Police have blamed the IRA for the raid at the Northern Bank on 20 December, but republicans have denied this.

However, Sinn Fein has said Mr Kelly had never expected to meet Mr Reiss in Washington, but had the meeting he expected with State Department officials.

The party said Mr Reiss had previously spoken to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams on the telephone.

Mr Adams is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair at his country residence at Chequers on Friday.

The prime minister has defended the meeting, but said he would make it clear to Mr Adams the need for exclusively peaceful means.

Meanwhile, the BBC has also been told that the White House has not yet finalised the arrangements for this year's St Patrick's Day festivities.

There has been some speculation that the festivities could be downgraded to include only a shamrock ceremony involving the US President and the Irish Premier Bertie Ahern.

US sources said they believed there would be a Northern Ireland aspect to the festivities, but a final decision would not be made for another month.

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