Obama Praises North's Leaders

Northern Ireland's political leaders will return to the province later after celebrating St Patrick's Day festivities in Washington as guests of US President Barack Obama.

Addressing assembled guests at the White House yesterday, Mr Obama paid tribute to the First and Deputy First Ministers.

He said DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuiness had shown "outstanding leadership" in recent times.

The President said their efforts had paid dividends to the peace process.

Mr Obama also recognised the contribution of the British and Irish government, and highlighted the input from his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in fraught negotiations.

"I've congratulated the taoiseach (Brian Cowen) and his government for the extraordinary work that they've engaged in, working with Gordon Brown and the British government as well as Secretary Hillary Clinton, in reaffirming the progress that's been made in Northern Ireland," he said.

"We want to be as supportive as possible in advancing the Northern Ireland peace process."

Special US envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly revealed an autumn economic conference, aimed at promoting business opportunities in the province, will be held in Washington.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie earlier vented her disappointed that she and Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey had not been invited to a private session between the President and Messrs Robinson and McGuinness.

Ms Ritchie said all four leaders appearing with the president would have sent out a strong image.

However, a meeting between the SDLP boss and Mr Obama was later arranged.


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