• Biden prioritized helping to “keep the peace” during the short visit
  • The power-sharing government collapsed a year ago
  • President goes south to meet distant relatives

BELFAST, April 12 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will mark the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal in Belfast on Wednesday and will outline his “strong desire” to increase U.S. investment there in a meeting with political leaders, a senior U.S. official said. .

Biden, who is fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, will spend just half a day in the UK region before traveling to the southern Irish Republic for two and a half days – including a meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Speeches and meetings with officials and distant relatives.

The brief Belfast stop comes against the backdrop of the latest political deadlock in which a power-sharing government, a key part of the 1998 peace deal, has not met for more than a year due to rows over post-Brexit trade arrangements.

Britain’s exit from the European Union also strained relations between Britain and Biden’s White House at times as London and Brussels struggled to find a divorce deal that did not undermine the principles of the peace deal.

“His message is going to be continued strong support to see the peace process move forward here,” Amanda Slott, the US National Security Council’s senior director for Europe, told reporters before Biden’s speech at the University of Belfast.

“This president’s strong desire is to increase US investment in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the huge economic potential he sees here and to reiterate broad support for the return of devolved government.”

‘great mercy’

Biden will also discuss the latest developments in Ukraine with Sunak but is not expected to talk about a potential free trade deal with Britain, Slott added.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Washington, Biden said he wanted to lend his support to the Windsor Framework Agreement between the European Union and Britain to reduce post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

That deal has so far failed to persuade the region’s largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to end its boycott of local assemblies. Power-sharing has endured several breakdowns and suspensions since 1998, including the House sitting on a different row between 2017 and 2020.

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, told Channel 4 News, “It is a matter of great sadness and great disappointment that the president of the free world will not be addressing the (relevant) assembly.”

“It’s no good hiding that fact. It’s a big goal of its own.”

The 1998 peace accord ended 30 years of bloodshed between mainly Catholic nationalist opponents and mainly Protestant unionist supporters of British rule.

‘Not anti-British’

The DUP said Biden’s visit – the first by a US president to the region in 10 years – could not persuade the province to end its opposition to trade rules that treat the province differently from the rest of the UK.

The DUP has criticized some of Biden’s interventions during Brexit negotiations, and one of its MPs, Sammy Wilson, a vocal critic of the New Deal, described Biden as “anti-British” in an interview with a British newspaper on Wednesday.

Slott said Biden’s track record shows “he is not anti-British”. U.S. officials have said Biden did not plan to pressurize the parties during a brief engagement with leaders at the University of Ulster where he will deliver his speech.

“It’s sad that this meeting is happening in terms of not being able to take place, the Good Friday Agreement can’t be fully implemented, but we have to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in,” said Naomi Long, the leader of the Coalition. party, Irish national broadcaster RTE said.

Biden was accompanied on his arrival by the new US Special Envoy for Economic Affairs to Northern Ireland, Joseph Kennedy III, the scion of an Irish-American political family, who will be in Northern Ireland for a few days to meet with business leaders.

Sloat said that while the US would not place conditions on any economic investment in Northern Ireland, it was fair to say that a working government would provide more stability and certainty for businesses.

Biden will later on Wednesday travel to County Louth – between Belfast and Dublin – where his grandfather was born. Stormy weather is expected across the island.

Biden will visit relatives on the other side of his family in the western county of Mayo on Friday.

Biden’s grandfather, Owen Finnegan, a shoemaker from County Louth, emigrated to the United States in 1849. His family, including Biden’s grandfather James Finnegan, followed him in the 1850s.

Writing by Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Edited by Peter Graf and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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