President Joe Biden said Monday he intends to visit Northern Ireland to mark the upcoming anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which the US helped broker a quarter-century ago to bring an end to decades of sectarian violence.
The president was responding to an invitation from Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was visiting California to announce a new agreement with Australia and the United States to cooperate on building nuclear-powered submarines.
“I know that’s something very special and personal to you and we would love to have you over,” Sunak told Biden, extending the invitation to visit Northern Ireland in person.
“It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic,” Biden said afterward.
A presidential visit to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark Good Friday accord has long been the subject of speculation. The last US president to visit Belfast was Barack Obama in 2013.
For Biden, a visit to Ireland will mark a symbolic return for a president who often makes reference to his Irish roots, sometimes quoting lines of verse from William Butler Yeats or Seamus Heaney in his speeches.
It’s also a moment to celebrate one of the defining diplomatic achievements of the late 20th century, one that came with significant American involvement that Biden watched unfold as a senator. Former US Sen. George Mitchell helped deliver the agreement that helped end decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.
“Twenty-five years? It seems like yesterday,” Biden told Sunak on Monday.
Officials said it was likely that former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton would also take part in events surrounding the anniversary next month.
As the anniversary approached, it remained unclear whether Biden would ultimately decide to travel to Northern Ireland, particularly as the fragile peace was tested by a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules on the island.
Biden had taken a keen interest in the discussions, and had pressed Sunak to come to an agreement by the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Last month, Britain announced it had reached an agreement with the European Union, ending the long-simmering disagreements.
The new rules could go far in improving ties between Biden and Sunak. Biden made a personal appeal both to Sunak and his two predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, to resolve the dispute over the trade rules.
US officials have said previously that a presidential visit to mark the anniversary would hinge in part on resolving the trade dispute. Biden has also pushed for a restoration of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, which collapsed in part due to disagreements over the trade rules.