US President Joe Biden has arrived in Belfast as part of a four-day diplomatic trip timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted the president as he arrived at Belfast International in Air Force One at around 9.30pm.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and the King’s personal representative for County Antrim, Lord-Lieutenant David McCorkell, were also among the welcoming party.
After exchanging greetings on the runway, Mr Biden left the runway with a large motorcade who escorted the US leader to a hotel in Belfast for an overnight stay.
A major security operation will be in place for Mr Biden’s visit, with more than 300 officers from the rest of the UK being drafted into Northern Ireland.
Accompanying Mr Biden on his trip was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the recently appointed US Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Joseph Kennedy III, along with dozens of White House staffers.
His son Hunter Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owen are also believed to be accompanying him for the trip.
Mr Biden is intensely proud of his Irish heritage, and last night tweeted that he was looking forward to marking the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast and ‘underscoring the US commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity’.
The 1998 deal brought an end to the Troubles – the decades-long violent conflict in Northern Ireland in which thousands of people were killed.
Mr Biden is expected to take part in a series of engagements in Belfast on Wednesday, including a formal meeting with the Prime Minister.
He will then deliver a keynote speech at Ulster University’s new Belfast campus, which Mr Sunak will not attend.
Downing Street has denied that Rishi Sunak’s interactions with Joe Biden this week are ‘low-key’, despite reports their talks had been downgraded by the US to a mere coffee meeting.
Asked why the plans appeared low-key, a No 10 spokesman told reporters: ‘I wouldn’t characterise it as that. As I’ve said the Prime Minister will see him tonight, he will see him again tomorrow.
‘You’ve seen the president’s actions during his time demonstrate that we have a close relationship. His first visit outside of North America was to the UK, where he met both the Queen and the Prince of Wales.’
‘We continue to have an incredibly positive working relationship with the president and the US government.’
Mr Sunak would raise the UK’s ‘enduring partnership’ with the US, trade and investment and other areas of shared interest, he said.
He played down the prospect of negotiations being reopened on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US, saying this was ‘not the only way of strengthening the UK-US trade relationship’ and highlighting pacts with individual states.
A free trade deal with the world’s largest economy had been touted as one of the prizes of leaving the European Union, but talks between the two nations have stalled.
Mr Biden’s trip comes just two weeks after MI5 said the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland had increased due to a rise in activity from dissident Republicans.
But the president’s spokesman said Mr Biden was ‘more than comfortable making this trip’ in spite of the terrorism threat.’
After delivering his speech at Ulster University, the President will head south to Dublin on Wednesday before making the short trip to Co Louth- where his great-grandfather was born- for a tour of Carlingford Castle.
On Thursday, Mr Biden will meet Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, before attending a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle.
There will not be, however, a formal group meeting between Mr Biden and Northern Ireland’s five main political parties.
Friday will see him carry out a series of engagements in Co Mayo, where his great-great-great-grandfather lived before emigrating to the US, before travelling to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he will remain for the rest of the weekend.
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