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First Ministers off to White House for talks with Obama

By David Gordon

The First and Deputy First Ministers are due to meet with President Barack Obama today in the culmination of a series of meetings with US political and business leaders to coincide with St Patrick’s Day.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are in Washington DC to develop business links and discuss the current political situation in Northern Ireland with the likes of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a two-day visit to the American capital.

But while the pair are scheduled to visit the White House today, Northern Ireland is not likely to feature high on President Obama’s list of priorities as he has only a few more days to win enough support for his controversial healthcare reform with the crucial vote in the House of Representatives on the issue this weekend.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have already met with Mrs Clinton as they began the second leg of their trip to the US. Earlier this week they took part in a round of meetings with potential investors in Chicago.

The meeting with Secretary Clinton followed ministerial attendance at a major business briefing event in Washington DC organised by US economic envoy Declan Kelly.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Our meeting with Secretary Clinton provided an opportunity for us to further cement the close ties that we have with this and previous US administrations who have played a vital part in the ongoing peace process in the North. Over many years Secretary Clinton has played a hugely supportive role in that process and in our discussions today I welcomed her determination to continue that role.

“Our visit to Washington will see us undertake a series of meetings with business and political leaders culminating in our visit to the White House to meet President Obama.”

Mr Robinson said: “We took the opportunity in our meeting with Secretary Clinton, to brief her on ongoing political developments and on our efforts to promote investment in Northern Ireland.

“The work of Declan Kelly has been of great assistance. In Washington and also in Chicago we have been able to engage with leading figures in corporate America and stress once again the many mutual benefits that exist for investors from the US and the Northern Ireland economy.

“I would be hopeful that as has been the case in the past this engagement will bear fruit in the months and years ahead as we seek to grow the partnership between our two countries at both a political and economic level.”

Meanwhile, Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey has also been in Washington DC to develop links between universities and further education colleges between the two countries.

“I am taking part in a whole programme of events during my visit aimed at forging and improving the relationship between universities and further and higher education colleges in Northern Ireland and America,” he explained.

“I believe this is vital for Northern Ireland. We have appointed a person to work in the US permanently to work on building links between Northern Ireland and the US as it is something we have to keep working at. Education is one of the most critical factors in developing business.”

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