N.Ireland casts shadow over first Johnson-Biden meeting

Biden and Johnson meet on eve of G7 summit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday played down reported tensions with US President Joe Biden over the impact of Brexit on the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, after the pair met for their first face-to-face talks on the eve of the G7 summit.

The pair were all smiles as they posed for the media before 90 minutes of closed-door discussions, overshadowed by claims Biden had ordered a rebuke to London amid its row with the European Union over new trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan insisted the president — a proud Irish-American with distant family still in Ireland — would not make “threats or ultimatums” to Johnson.

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Adding to the pressure on Johnson, EU leaders said they would also bring up the row when they meet the British leader on Saturday, as member state Ireland said it welcomed US support.

“I’m optimistic we can do that,” he told reporters in Carbis Bay, Cornwall.

The meeting came at the start of Biden’s first foreign tour as president that takes in NATO, the EU and talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and was billed as a chance for the old allies to help shape the post-pandemic world.

Biden called the meeting “very productive” and echoed Johnson’s commitment to supporting the peace process in Northern Ireland, without elaborating.

New trading arrangements for Northern Ireland introduced in January after the UK left the European single market and customs union, nearly four years after the divisive Brexit vote, have caused tensions with the EU — and alarm in Washington.

But pro-British unionist communities say the new rules have driven a wedge between the province and the rest of the UK, increasing the likelihood of reunification with Ireland.

Talks to resolve the simmering feud broke up in London without agreement Wednesday, with Europe threatening retaliatory action, including tariffs, if the new trading arrangements are not implemented.

Biden on Wednesday night outlined the need for global collaboration to rebuild after Covid-19 and reset diplomatic ties after the isolationism of the Trump era, declaring: “The United States is back!”

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” he said.

But as Russia and China also engage in so-called “vaccine diplomacy” and campaigners press for a level playing field on global vaccine distribution, a senior US official denied the US was seeking any quid pro quo.

In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron called on pharma groups producing vaccines against Covid-19 to donate 10 percent of their production to poor nations.

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