Peter Robinson has repeated his assertion that an IRA commemoration caused his party to withdraw its support for the Maze peace centre proposals.
Speaking during his first television interview since outlining his position in a letter, the First Minister said the Sinn Fein-organised event in Castlederg last month had galvanised public opinion against the Maze initiative.
Denying any U-turn over the project, Mr Robinson told UTV he was “prepared to run with the proposal” – providing he continued to have a veto on the overall final plans.
He said the Castlederg parade, held in honour of two IRA men killed when their bomb exploded prematurely, was a glorification of terrorism and had killed off cooperation over the Maze.
“It’s not a U-turn. What it is, is setting a condition and the condition is there has to be public support for it,” he said.
“And I can’t gain the support because it’s Sinn Fein that they don’t trust on the issue of what they would do with the centre.”
In his letter to all of the DUP’s elected representatives dated August 12, Mr Robinson also claimed the naming of a children’s play park in Newry after an IRA hunger-striker had been “insensitive” towards victims.
The First Minister was heavily criticised by Sinn Fein at the time for sending the letter while on holiday in Florida, without consulting Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Commenting on reports he was contemplating quitting his post, Mr Robinson said: “I’ve made it very clear that I’m going on – that’s the wish of the party.
“I’ve a job to do. I’ve made it clear that my time and exit is based on what can be achieved and when I feel it’s appropriate for someone to take over.”
The First Minister was speaking ahead of yesterday’s conference in New York where he met up with Mr McGuinness for the first time since the Florida letter controversy.
The pair arrived in the city separately as Mr Robinson travelled to New York directly from his holiday villa.
The ministers, who are also due to visit the Brooklyn Navy Yard and address the annual Irish America Wall Street 50 Awards, are aiming to project a positive image of Northern Ireland and to stimulate investment ahead of a major conference hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron next month.
Mr McGuinness said: “It is important we visit the United States of America in advance of the investment conference in October and ahead of the Executive party group meeting with Richard Haass next week.”