US president Joe Biden has said it is his “intention” to go to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, after receiving a formal invitation from UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.
The two leaders met at Naval Base Point Loma, in San Diego, California, after the US, UK and Australia unveiled a decades-long project to supply Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines in an effort to counter China.
Ahead of their bilateral meeting, Sunak invited Biden to Northern Ireland to commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which will centre on several days of events in mid-April at Queen’s University Belfast.
“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you over,” Sunak said.
Biden, an Irish-American who spent decades in the US Senate as a member of the legislature’s foreign relations committee, replied: “Twenty-five years. It seems like yesterday, seems like yesterday. Anyway, thank you.”
When a reporter asked Biden if he would be going to Northern Ireland, the president replied: “It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
In a Twitter post, taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was “good news that President Biden plans to visit Ireland in the near future”.
The Irish leader said he would discuss the visit with Biden when he meets him this week at the White House for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Micheál Martin, foreign minister, told reporters Biden’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement “has been extraordinary”.
Northern Ireland’s first minister-designate Michelle O’Neill, said she would be delighted to welcome Biden to Belfast.
“The US has been a key partner for peace in Ireland and such a visit demonstrates its continued commitment, which is deeply valued,” she said in a statement.
O’Neill also urged Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to rejoin the region’s power-sharing executive as soon as possible. The DUP has been boycotting the political institutions at Stormont since May in a row over post-Brexit trading rules.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed on April 10 1998, ending decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. The complex talks that led to the agreement were chaired by US special envoy George Mitchell.
More recently, the White House and legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties have been adamant that any post-Brexit trading arrangements will not violate the agreement.
When it was announced last month Biden welcomed the Windsor framework, which sets out ways to smooth the working of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol. Lawmakers described the deal as alleviating a main source of tension between Washington and London. It also raised hopes on both sides of the Atlantic for reinvigorated trade talks between the UK and the US.
Sunak at the weekend described the Windsor framework as a “positive step”, adding: “I was very keen to try and bring resolution to some of the challenges of the protocol and . . . do the right thing for the people and businesses there.”
Additional reporting by Jude Webber in Dublin