Press Conference with Amanda Sloat, Senior Director for Europe at the National Security Council, April 12, 2023.
You. Great, thanks. Good morning, everybody. It’s great to be back in Belfast and nice to see sunshine this morning as opposed to the cold and rainy weather we had on arrival last night. As everybody knows, the president has been very excited about this trip for quite some time and it is glad to be here to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement which has brought peace and stability to northern Ireland. After decades of violence, President Biden cares deeply about Northern Ireland and has for many decades dating back to his time in the Senate and has long been an advocate for how the US could play a constructive role, supporting peace and prosperity. I have to say as a personal note, I lived in Northern Ireland for three years, moving here in 1998 or sorry, moving here in 2001, 3 years after the Good Friday was signed in a week before 9 11. So it’s a particular honor for me to be back in a place I care deeply about and also with a president who cares very deeply about the place as well as I said, as the US. Senator Joe Biden visited northern Ireland, met with leaders of its political parties as well as with British and Irish leaders. He advocated for the US to provide economic assistance in support of the peace process and alleviate the high economic cost of the troubles. He vocally supported the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In 2000, he nominated Senator George Mitchell to receive the Nobel Prize for his work to bring together Northern Ireland’s leaders, President Biden, as I think you’re all tracking, we will be meeting with Prime Minister Rishi later this morning. So it will be an opportunity for the two of them to discuss the tremendous progress that’s been made here in northern Ireland, as well as to how the United States can continue working with the UK government as well as the Irish government, the European Union and Northern Ireland’s leaders to continue to be a partner for peace and to support continued economic development in northern Ireland. I expect the leaders will also have the opportunity to touch base on the latest developments in Ukraine, including our continued joint efforts to support the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves from Russia’s continued aggression. For those of you that are counting, this will be the third in person meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister. So they met for the first time at the G 20 meeting in Bali. At the end of last year, they saw each other last month with the August announcement in San Diego. At which time, the president invited prime ministers to visit him in Washington in June. And of course, they’ll have the opportunity to see each other next month at the G7 meeting in Hiroshima as well. So following that meeting, the president will head to Ulster University, which is going to be the main event that the president is doing here in northern Ireland. Ulster University is the largest university here in Northern Ireland. And the president will have the opportunity to deliver remarks that will focus on underscoring the readiness of the United States to support the gains in the last 25 years and to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities. The audience will include a mix of young entrepreneurs, young leaders, business leaders, civil society, representatives of the UK government, as well as members of northern Ireland’s government. I expect the president will talk about how the last 25 years we’re focused on peace but the next 25 years should be marked by economic growth and prosperity at Ulster University. The president will have the opportunity to engage with the leaders of the five main political parties in northern Ireland who we also saw when they were in Washington for the ST Patrick’s Day reception and other events. Last month. After a speech, the president will be heading down to the Republic of Ireland. He will be starting in County Louth. He will have the opportunity to dig a little deeper into his family’s Irish roots and the story of how they immigrated to the United States. His ancestors from Louth are the Finnegans who are on his mother’s side. So the president will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of Carlingford Castle and from a viewpoint at the castle, the president will be able to see Warren Point in northern Ireland, which is where Owen Finnegan departed the Port of Newry for New York. President Biden will end the day with a walking tour of Dundalk where he may even encounter some distant cousins. On Thursday, President Biden will do a number of political engagements in Dublin. He will start by meeting with President Higgins of Ireland who he also met with on his visits in 2016 as vice president and in 2017, when he came in a personal capacity there, he will participate in a tree planting ceremony and the ringing of the bell. Following that ceremony, he’ll meet with the T shirt Leo Varadkar who he of course hosted last month in Washington for ST Patrick’s Day. In both meetings, the president will have the opportunity to discuss the close bilateral cooperation between our two countries as well as our cooperation on a shared range of shared global challenges. The president will then address a joint session of the Irish parliament. I assume he will talk about again. The strong bilateral ties between the United States and Europe and our close cooperation to advance peace, security and prosperity, as well as the deep and enduring historical cultural, political and economic ties between our countries. On Thursday night, the president will attend a banquet dinner hosted by the Tao at Dublin Castle on Friday. President Biden will travel to County Mayo which will include stops at the world renowned Mount Shrine and the North Mayo Heritage Center at the latter site. The president is expected to meet with experts who will share further research about the ancestry of the blue side of President Biden’s family. The trip will then culminate with a speech in front of ST Mick’s Cathedral in Bolia, which is the very cathedral where in 18 28 President Biden’s great, great, great grandfather Edward gluts bricks were used to conduct to construct 12 pillars that support the nave. One thing you will hear and have long heard the president talk about in Ireland is how much his Irish heritage means to him and how closely linked to the United States and Ireland are today. One in 10 Americans have Irish ancestry. Irish Americans are proudly represented in every facet of American life and beyond those close personal ties. Ireland of course, is a key economic partner of the United States and our two countries are working closely together to make the global economy fairer. It’s worth noting that the Irish government has been a very strong supporter of Ukraine providing vital non lethal assistance, including medical supplies, body armor and non lethal assistance. As well as support for Ukraine’s electric grid and agricultural sector. They supported sanctions within the Eu on Russia, not the people of Ireland have welcomed approximately 80,000 Ukrainians offering refuge to those who were forced to flee the violence. And I expect the president to recognize all of this and more in his address to the houses of parliament and as well as when he speaks in County Mayo on the last evening of the trip. So hopefully that gives you a good broad overview of what we have planned today. And in the next couple of days, I’m happy to take questions. Thank you. Uh Two quick questions not related to Ireland on the leak of classified documents. Can you share a little bit about how the disclosures have been coming up in conversations that you’re having with your counterparts in Europe and how that may be complicating the work that you and your colleagues are doing. And then the second question is on the comments by the French president after he visited China. How wide would you say the Gulf is between the US and the European approach to Beijing?
So I think we’re going to take all of the non trick questions with Kirby and Kaine later today and just focus here for now on the trip. I think, can you discuss whether the president will have a response to Prime Minister Soak’s calls to launch some measure of free trade negotiations, not a full FTA but he wants to move the ball forward here somehow. What will the president tell?
So I don’t anticipate that the two leaders are going to be talking about a free trade agreement on this trip. I think when they meet later this morning, the purpose of their conversation is going to focus primarily on the situation in Northern Ireland. Given that that’s where they are meeting as well as a chance to touch base on Ukraine and some other issues when the two leaders met in San Diego, they did have an opportunity to touch briefly on economic issues. And part of the reason that the president invited Prime Minister soak to have a meeting with him in Washington in June is to continue furthering and deepening that conversation. So we’re continually looking for ways to engage with the UK on the full range of economic issues as we had read out of their conversation in San Diego, but are not currently discussing a free trade agreement with electoral specific trade arrangements that the US would be interested in sort of bite sized efforts that the PM has been advocating for. I think those are all the source of ongoing negotiations and I expect the two leaders will have the opportunity to talk in more detail about economic issues when they have the opportunity for a longer conversation in and very briefly given he’s meeting with political party leaders. Does the US have a position on whether the Good Friday Agreement should be revised to allow for non parties to join any power sharing agreement right now, that’s not the case. Does he have a, does the US have a position one way or another?
Whether that should I know?
That’s the subject of a lot of ongoing discussion here right now, that is, that is ultimately going to be a decision for the people of Northern Ireland to make in terms of how they structure their governance, pressuring them to break the logjam and storm on right now, or is that not the purpose of the grieving, the purpose of the president’s visit today is to mark the Good Friday Agreement to continue to reaffirm the support of the United States for peace and prosperity to underscore the readiness of the United States to engage in further economic investment here. Obviously, the president, like I think everybody in northern Ireland, the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the rest would like to see the devolved institutions back up and running the president made that point in his remarks on on ST Patrick’s Day. But, but really the main purpose of his visit here today is to mark the anniversary. Thank you. Thanks, Amanda. I appreciate it in terms of talking to the dup today. What is the President’s strategy to encourage them to reopen Stormont?
Given it’s widely seen here that they’re holding it up because they don’t want Sinn Fein to have the first minister and sort of break this huge tradition. I just curious to know what leverage he might have in his conversations with the, I think, like I said, in response to the previous question, I think the main message of the president to all parties to all people of Northern Ireland is to reaffirm support for the Good Friday Agreement and obviously pillar one and the devolved institutions here in Northern Ireland are a fundamental part strand, one of the Good Friday Agreement. And so I think the president’s message, as he said in ST Patrick’s day, as I expect he will reaffirm today is the United States strong support for that, the belief that the people of Northern Ireland deserve to have democratically elected power sharing representative governance. So I think the president comes here very much as a friend, as a supporter of Northern Ireland, as a supporter of peace in Northern Ireland to convey the message of support from the United States for those institutions and for the process here. OK. We’ll uh take one from uh from the zoom. Here we go to uh Brandon Hughes. Well, thank you very much for this briefing and in Belfast here wasn’t just interested, the logistics of things. I wonder you need to have us in this meeting or engagement that the president will be having with the government parties. And how is that engagement going to work?
Is it going to be a proper city or is it something shaking the paths while they’re at Ulster University?
And I wonder if you can give a bit more detail as to the timing of when he will actually be leaving northern Ireland, how he’d be leaving Northern Ireland?
Just, just how short this visit north of the border will be. Do you want to address any of the logistics?
Sure. On the on the logistics, the presence after his event at Ulster University, he’ll head to the airport to fly to Dublin and from there, he’ll head over to Canada for the meeting at Ulster University. He will be, he will be engaging with the party leaders in advance of the speech. Yeah, I mean, yes, I think Sean Sean is tracking better the timing and the broad logistics. But I think as Sean said, the president will arrive at Ulster University and will have the opportunity I think to engage with, with some of the dignitaries who will be attending his speech and it will be in that context that he’ll have the opportunity to engage with the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties in advance of delivering his remarks at the university. We’ll come back to Zoom in just a moment. Let’s go to Catherine Lucy from the Wall Street Journal. Thanks. I just want to be clear you keep saying engagement with the party leaders. Is this is this just a hello or will there actually be time for them to have a conversation?
I expect it will be time to have a conversation and it is not going to be a formal sit down group meeting, but there will be an opportunity for him to speak with each of the leaders of five major political parties. And I know you’ve been asked versions of this before, but with the dup, does the president, is he going to have a direct ask for them?
Is he going to ask them to do anything?
I’m not going to speak to what the president is going to say in these meetings. I think a matter as I, the president obviously is supportive of the institutions, the president, like everybody in northern Ireland, the leader of the UK would like to see the institutions up and running. That’s been very much the president’s broad and consistent message from ST Patrick’s Day. I think you will hear that message publicly from the president today and I think he will have the opportunity to convey that directly to the party leaders as well. I understand you want to leave other topics to your colleagues. But can you say that the president himself plans to bring up these leaked documents when he meets with the Prime Minister later this morning?
Given that the administration has been making great efforts to try and reassure our allies. I think we’ve been having engagements across the administration with a broad number of allies and partners but can’t speak to specifically what the president intends to raise for the Prime Minister this morning. Welcome back to Zoom for uh Amy Gibbs. Great, great. Um Thanks very much for this briefing. And I just wanted to ask unionists believe the president is in favor of Irish reunification. So is he, I think as I said, the president is a strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement. And the Good Friday Agreement includes mechanisms by which the people of Northern Ireland can make that decision for themselves. But in terms of uh in terms of unification. So specifically, you know, United Ireland, I, like I said, the Good Friday Agreement is very clear on what the process is and the president very much recognizes that that is ultimately a decision that the people of Northern Ireland need to make according to the provisions laid out in the Good Friday Agreement. Thank you. I’ll do one more from the Zoom and then we’ll go back to the room. Let’s go to Antonello Guerrera. I I, I sorry, I, I mean, uh thanks very much for this. Uh I mean, can I ask how generally conservative is the president of the Council this back in Belfast?
And does the president think any stability from the unionist people?
Like seeing him as the?
Thank you. I think the president, as I said, has long tracked, supported and engaged in the peace process here in Northern Ireland. And I think if you look back to his record dating back to when he was a senator. And here the president has a track record of engaging with leaders from all communities, engaging with the leaders of both the UK and Ireland. The president had the opportunity to interact with the of all of the political parties when they were in Washington for ST Patrick’s Day. The president today will have the opportunity to engage with the leaders from the five main political parties here as well. And certainly recognizes that the Good Friday Agreement is structured in a way to reflect the current situation in Northern Ireland. And that very much involves a power sharing government that respects the views of both communities. Great. Uh Thank you again for doing this after today’s pretty needy and sensitive interactions with political leaders here. I think there’s a perception that the rest of this week is essentially tree planting, bell ringing and a taxpayer funded family reunion. What would the White House say to that chart?
This is essentially the president coming to rediscover his roots and that there may not be much substance beyond that, not surprisingly dispute that characterization. Like I said, the president today is going to have the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister of the UK. I think the president feels very strongly that there is benefit both here as well as in the United States to mark the anniversary of the good Friday agreement. He is here two days after the 25th anniversary of that. And I think feels it’s important to send a powerful signal of support by the United States for the progress that’s been made, the sustained support going ahead. And then on Thursday, the president will spend the day doing very active diplomacy with the leaders of Ireland. He’ll be meeting the president, he’ll be meeting the Taisei. I think there’s going to be a lot of conversations in both of those about Ukraine in particular, which as I said has been a strong, an effective partner with the European Union in the efforts in Ukraine, as well as the large number of other areas. We are working together around the world peacekeeping, Usaid and Irish aid are working very closely together on food security, which is particularly relevant in the context of Ukraine. And I think the issue of immigration not only is a personal one for the president, but I think is also one that speaks much more broadly to the shared experience of a large number of Americans. And I think the president also finds it a useful opportunity to engage more broadly on these questions of immigration, to engage on the close economic ties between our two countries as well as to have the opportunity to talk again. And with these Irish leaders about the shared foreign policy goals that we’re working on including Ukraine as well as to Ireland, which of course is a co guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and clearly has a vested interest in political developments here in Northern Ireland as well. Ukraine, there’s an ongoing debate now in Ireland about whether to revisit military neutrality. Does the president, does the administration take a position on that?
Is that like something he would nudge them towards?
You know, I mean, again, I think that’s a decision for the Irish people. I think the president has respected the fact that even though Ireland is neutral militarily, and I think the Taoiseach and the leadership of Ireland themselves have said that they are not neutral when it comes to standing up for the UN principles in the conflict. I think the president has been appreciative of everything that Ireland has done, especially through the eu including through the peace facility that’s been used in Ukraine, the non lethal assistance that they have provided and then in particular, the really significant number of refugees that they have taken in. But I think for questions on broader military assistance and neutrality obviously is going to be a decision for the Irish government. I K o’donnell. And this, could you describe some of the sensitivities that you’re trying to be mindful of here?
So the UK Prime Minister is not attending the President’s speech. There is some concern about how much time the president is spending in Belfast and even a certain, the sense of how much the president should talk about his Irish roots with the way some interpret that in some of the questions you’ve already received about whether or not the president is interested in reunification. So in this particular moment coming to Ireland where there is an anniversary to celebrate, but there are also current tensions and questions. How is the president trying to be careful about some of those sensitivities?
Sure, I mean, the president I think is coming here very much as a friend of Northern Ireland, a strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement, a strong supporter of the peace process. And I think with messages of support and encouragement, one obviously marking the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the tremendous progress that’s been made. Second, I think the president recognizes the challenges that the UK S departure from the European Union have created for Northern Ireland in particular. And I think that’s why you’ve seen the president be so vocal in welcoming the Windsor framework, which is a recognition of the fact that the UK and the Eu in particular Prime Minister soak President Von Der Leyen worked very closely together over a number of months to try and find a way forward that address the needs of the, of the Eu’s economic situation in a way that was in the best interest of Northern Ireland. And that responded to a lot of what they were hearing from the business community in Northern Ireland, the UK and Ireland as well. So a second message is recognizing the work that has been done already on. That. Third is to remind, reiterate underscore the continued support of the United States both for the peace process and especially on the economic side, the president appointed a couple of months ago, Joe Kennedy as the special envoy for Northern Ireland Economic Affairs. Joe Kennedy will be with the president today at the speech and Joe Kennedy will be remaining in northern Ireland in the days ahead to continue following up on the president’s pledge to continue investing in the economic development of northern Ireland. And then finally, as we have been talking about, obviously, the president has an interest in the governance of Northern Ireland and the strand one, the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland are a critical part of that. And I think the president will reiterate what he said in his ST Patrick’s day remarks, which is that he, the United States, the people of Northern Ireland want to see a strong and functioning representative government here in northern Ireland. And now I’m kind of blocked by the TV. So I was able to see the side of the and Amanda. Thank you for doing this briefing. Martin Ball is my name from the Irish Times. Um Can I ask you when the president goes to Dublin today or tomorrow?
Will he have any specific asks of the Irish government?
For example, in Ukraine, will they be asking them to do anything more than they have done up to now. I think, like I said, the president has been very happy with everything that Ireland has been doing. I know when he spoke with the Taoiseach, when they were in Washington together on ST Patrick’s Day. It really is staggering when you look per capita at the number of Ukrainian refugees that Ireland has taken in. So that was something that very much struck the president when they met in Washington and I expect they will discuss again when they see each other in person. I think there’s also a recognition that Ireland has given a significant amount of support, particularly in terms of non lethal, has contributed to what the EU has done on the lethal side through the peace facility. And then obviously been a strong supporter of sanctions within the EU to continue imposing costs on Russia as well. Thank you so much following up on the, on the meeting with Northern Island, uh political leaders, some dup leaders had pretty harsh words for the president. One of them describing him as anti British in the press just this morning. So is the president trying to change that perception and what’s his message going to be for those leaders?
You know, I think the track record of the president shows that he’s, he’s not anti British. The president has been very actively engaged throughout his career dating back to when he was a senator in the peace process in northern Ireland. And that has involved meetings with leaders of all of Northern Ireland’s political parties from both of the two main communities. The British and Irish leaders here, the UK remains one of our strongest and closest allies. And it’s difficult frankly to think of an issue in the world that we are not closely cooperating with the British on. And it’s why the president wanted to have the opportunity to engage with Prime Minister soak this morning to start his day here in Belfast. And I think his message to the dup and to all of the political leaders is going to be what I have been laying out, which is the continued strong support for seeing the peace process move forward here. The strong desire by this president to increase us investment in northern Ireland to take advantage of the vast economic potential that he sees here and to reiterate broad support for the return of devolved government in northern Ireland. Ok. We only have time for a couple more. Let me take uh final ones from the zoom and then I’ll come back to the room. So uh then Larry. Hello. Yes, we can. Ok. Hi. Thanks so much for having me. Um Dave a foster uh and is a former first minister going D N P leader said on a television channel yesterday that um President Biden um hates the United. Um I, I just wondered what the reaction was to that. Yes, I can answer the same question. A second time. I it’s, it’s simply untrue the fact that the president is going to be engaging for the third time in three months and then again next month and then again in June with the Prime Minister of the UK shows how close our cooperation is with the UK. And before that, the president had numerous calls and meetings with Prime Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Trust as well. President Biden obviously is a very proud Irish American. He is proud of those Irish roots, but he is also a strong supporter of our bilateral partnership with the UK, not only on a bilateral basis within NATO, within the G7 on the UN Security Council. And like I said, we truly are working in lockstep with the British government on all of the pressing global challenges that our countries are facing. Let’s do one final question from the Zoom and then we’ll come back to the room to finish up. So let’s do the set. Ok. Hi there, Jake, you’ve covered in those recent questions. What I was going to ask?
However, is there something not that you can add on what America, what Joe Biden envisages as economic support and what form on that table to be some sort of summit?
And what exactly can he take?
It’s a good question. And I think that’s, that’s going to be a large part of the remit of Joe Kennedy. Like I said, he is here with the President he will be at his remarks today. I believe he will be spending the next week here in Northern Ireland. He had the opportunity to engage with a lot of us companies as well as Northern Ireland companies, other British and Irish firms in Washington around ST Patrick. He’ll be taking the opportunity of being here this week to continue those conversations. I think he wants to get a sense of what specific needs are in Northern Ireland. And then to start thinking through ways in which the United States can best support that through increased investment, trade links and other ways in which the US can meaningfully contribute to unlocking the truly vast potential here in Northern Ireland. Thank you. We have uh time for two final questions. The BBC. Hi there. Does the president believe it is necessary for the devolved government to start to be up and running in order to access that economic investment that you’re talking about?
Is it a prerequisite that there’s a functioning government before there can be economic assistance?
I don’t think we’re putting conditions on it. I mean, there is a need for additional economic support and development here. Right?
Certainly, if you talk to business leaders, they have made clear that they are looking for stability and certainty. But I think our commitment to Northern Ireland has been clear and sustained and is going to continue. But that obviously is a question for business leaders. It is just to go back to something I said earlier, why the President has been so supportive of the Windsor framework?
Because there is a clear view that that responded to the needs that were identified by businesses and that that is a step in giving businesses the confidence and the stability that they need. So I think it’s fair to say that having the developed institutions up and running would further provide that stability and certainty to businesses. But the US commitment to support Northern Ireland’s economic development stands on its own. Great. We have time for one final question. If no one has any more, great, always, always love it when we ask questions. Uh I know the last ones are always the hardest too. So well, thank you everyone for uh taking the time to do this. We’re very glad we able to make it work. Uh As Amanda said at the beginning, we’re working on uh getting uh more going through all throughout the trip, including with Kirby and Kaine. So we’ll keep you all posted as soon as something gets finalized. Thank you.