Biden administration not taking sides in UK-EU rift on Northern Ireland: aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will not take sides in a British-European Union rift over the movement of goods to Northern Ireland, a senior U.S. official said ahead of a meeting between President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin.

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Biden and Martin are set to meet virtually on Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day, as disputes simmer related to the implementation of agreements put into place as the UK exited the European Union.

Among them is the Northern Ireland protocol, which governs the movement of goods into that province.

The dispute has raised tensions in the region, more than two decades after a 1998 peace deal largely ended three decades of violence between mostly Protestant unionists, who want Northern Ireland to stay in the UK, and mostly Catholic nationalists looking to unite the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

Biden has long expressed firm support for the Good Friday, or Belfast, Agreement.

“The U.S. government has welcomed provisions in both the EU-UK Trade and cooperation agreements, as well as the Northern Ireland protocol, which we believe helps protect the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said the senior Biden administration official, who declined to be named previewing the president’s comments to reporters.

“We’re certainly aware that there are disagreements at the moment between the UK and the EU in the implementation of that. We view that as a trade issue to be resolved between the UK and the EU, and hope that both sides are able to return to the table and discuss the implementation of the agreement.”

The aide added: “The U.S. administration is not looking to take sides in this disagreement.”

Martin has said Ireland, an EU member, is counting on U.S. support to help maintain the political stability of Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups said they were temporarily withdrawing support for the 1998 peace agreement due to concerns over the Brexit deal.

The groups expressed concern about a disruption to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland due to the deal and said they believed that Britain, Ireland and the EU had breached their commitments to the peace deal.

No decision has been made on the U.S. appointment of a special envoy to deal with Northern Ireland, the U.S. official said.

The virtual meeting with Martin will be the first bilateral event with Ireland hosted by Biden, who is Irish American. Biden is expected to make a trip to Ireland as soon as this summer.

Martin will also meet virtually with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris and participate in the annual U.S. congressional luncheon marking Ireland’s national day and the close ties between the two countries.

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