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The North’s political leaders have invited Barack Obama to the Six Counties after meeting the US president in the White House to discuss the political situation in the region.
President Obama met with DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Joe Biden and US economic envoy Declan Kelly, as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington.
On Tuesday night, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness along with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams also held separate talks with Mrs Clinton, who said President Obama would love to come to Ireland.
“I can tell you he would love to come to Ireland”, she said.
“It’s just a question of trying to manage all these challenges at once. He has a full domestic policy agenda which he is chipping away at and making progress . But believe me Ireland is top of the list.”
Mr McGuinness said the meeting with Mrs Clinton provided an opportunity to further cement the close ties with the current US administration.
“Over many years Secretary Clinton has played a hugely supportive role in that process and in our discussions (...) I welcomed her determination to continue that role.”
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie griped at the decision not to invite her or the Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey to the White House meeting with President Obama.
Ms Ritchie said: “It raises serious questions for me about the operation of a four-party executive. We are seeing the continuation of a two-party carve-up.
“There is a fundamental point and it is important that we demonstrate we have a four-party executive. It is about a shared society because St Patrick is a unifying figure.”
Mr Robinson said it was up to President Obama to choose who he wanted to invite.
“We meet the president by his invitation. We could not hope to demand a meeting with the leader of the free world.”
BOWL OF SHAMROCK
Taoiseach Brian Cowen also held talks with President Obama at the White House and presented him with the annual bowl of shamrocks.
Mr Obama spoke to reporters during the meeting in the Oval Office
He said that he and the Taoiseach saw signs of economic stabilisation on both sides of the Atlantic but more work is needed for job creation.
“On both sides of the Atlantic we are seeking stabilisation of the economy, but we want more than stabilization,” Mr Obama said. “There are a lot of people out there who are still hurting, still out of work.”
He said the United States and Ireland will continue to coordinate in international organisations and bilaterally “to see how we can spur investment and private sector growth on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Following their meeting today, the Taoiseach and Mr Obama will go together to Capitol Hill to attend a special lunch hosted by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Mr Cowen and his wife Mary earlier had breakfast with US vice-president Joe Biden.
The Taoiseach thanked Mr Biden for the support his country had given to Ireland and said a final step had been taken towards peace and prosperity with the recent Hillsborough Agreement for devolving policing and justice powers.
“The last piece of the jigsaw is in place,” he said.
“The democratic will of the people of Ireland to live in peace, which was so clearly expressed in the Good Friday Agreement, has found its full expression.”
In his meeting last night, Gerry Adams thanked the Secretary of State and the US Administration for continued support for the peace process in Ireland.
“The Secretary of State has played an important and supportive role in the Irish peace process,” Mr Adams said.
I had an opportunity today to thank her for that continued focus by the US government.”
Sinn Fein said the meeting also allowed Mr Adams to raise a number of issues, including the future of the International Fund for Ireland; US economic support; and the need for continuing US support for the peace process and for the political institutions.
The Sinn Fein leader also briefed the Secretary of State on the current political situation and in particular the work arising from the Hillsborough Agreement on implementing the outstanding issues from the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements.
Later Mr Adams met US Senator Chris Dodd and briefed him on the political process. Mr Adams also raised the plight of the thousands of undocumented Irish living in the USA.
“There are many thousands of undocumented Irish living and working in the USA who have built new lives and are contributing positively to that society,” he said. “Sinn Fein supports immigration reform which would provide a visa for the undocumented Irish.”