Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Vice President Joe Biden will push First Ministers for a deal on Haass

US Vice President Joe Biden (above) will use the St Patrick's Day festivities in Washington to push the First and Deputy Ministers to implement the Haass proposals on flags, parading and the past.

While Mr Biden (right) will host a reception with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the big question this year is whether President Barack Obama will turn up.

Any appearance by Dr Richard Haass – who chaired the recent talks on Northern Ireland's most divisive issues – is also yet to be confirmed.

Regardless of whether he meets the politicians who frustrated his attempts to negotiate an agreement, Mr Biden and the White House will strongly back the former diplomat's proposals.

Mr Biden has already made his views clear. On December 29 he phoned Mr Robinson to urge him to accept the Haass proposals. When Mr Robinson rejected them as they stood, the White House issued a statement expressing disappointment.

"We urge Northern Ireland's political leaders to continue to work together to build on this progress, including implementing the proposals where consensus already exists," it said.

That theme is likely to be repeated, with the emphasis on implementation.

Celebrations in Washington are being held three days early this year, on March 14, because Congress breaks up on St Patrick's Day itself.

Last year's reception was hosted by senior US officials, but President Obama "dropped in" to get his photograph taken with the two Northern Ireland leaders and express his support for their work.

Mr Biden will host the Northern Ireland leaders this year.

The meeting will be held either in the White House complex or on Capitol Hill. If it is held in the White House, or the Eisenhower Building, it is more likely that Mr Obama will drop by to give Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness the photocall they want.

President Obama will host an earlier reception, the main event of the day, for Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Between now and St Patrick's Day there is expected to be both pressure on and encouragement for the local parties to give Mr Biden and Mr Obama something positive to announce.

STORY SO FAR

Talks chaired by Dr Richard Haass, a former US diplomat, on flags, parading and the legacy of the Troubles broke up without agreement on New Year's Eve. The paper discussed has now been published. The US government unequivocally backs the proposals and has called for them to be implemented. US Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead on the issue.

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