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US President Joe Biden to meet UK PM Rishi Sunak at start of Irish tour

US President Joe Biden will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Northern Irish political leaders in Belfast, kicking off a three-day Irish tour with a speech to mark the 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal.

Mr Biden, who is fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, will spend just more than half a day in the UK region before travelling south to the Irish Republic for two-and-a-half days of speeches and meetings with officials and distant relatives.

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

“It is a huge pity and a huge disappointment that the president of the free world is not addressing the (devolved) assembly,” former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, told Channel 4 News.

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

Speaking to reporters before leaving Washington, Mr Biden said his priority was to help “keep the peace” as Northern Ireland marks the anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that largely ended 30 years of bloodshed between mainly Catholic opponents and mainly Protestant supporters of British rule.

He also said he would seek to make sure the recent Windsor Framework deal between the European Union and Britain to ease post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom remained in place.

That deal has failed to convince the region’s largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to end a more than year-long boycott of the local assembly.

Power sharing has endured multiple breakdowns and suspensions since 1998, including the assembly not sitting between 2017 and 2020 over a different row.

Mr Biden will discuss the latest developments in Ukraine with Sunak but is not expected to speak about a potential free trade agreement with Britain, White House official Amanda Sloat told a news conference.

The DUP has said Mr Biden’s visit – the first to the region by a US president in 10 years – will not convince it to end its protest at the trade rules that treat the province differently to the rest of the UK.

A senior US administration official said Mr Biden was not planning to pressure the parties.

Mr Biden will speak at Ulster University then travel to County Louth – midway between Belfast and Dublin – where his great-grandfather was born.

He will meet relatives from another side of his family in the western county of Mayo on Friday.

-Reuters

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