By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA in Washington DC
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has held talks with President Joe Biden as the two leaders marked St Patrick’s Day at the White House.
Ahead of the bilateral engagement, Mr Varadkar hailed the Irish-American relationship as one of “two proud democracies, close friends and economic partners”.
During the meeting, the two politicians discussed the president’s planned visit to the island of Ireland next month.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office before the private engagement, Mr Varadkar pledged to “roll out the red carpet” for Mr Biden when he visits Ireland.
Biden thanked the Taoiseach for “standing together” with the US against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It means a great deal speaking out against Russia’s brutal aggression,” he said.
He said they had “a lot to talk about” as he mentioned the “deepening economic ties” between the US and Ireland.
The President noted his recent discussions with UK Prime Minster Rishi Sunak on his new deal with the EU on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
“I very strongly supported the Windsor Framework, which I know you do too,” said the President.
He also highlighted the importance of the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Taoiseach began the day of traditional St Patrick’s Day engagements in Washington DC at a breakfast event hosted by the US vice-president, Kamala Harris.
Mr Varadkar and his partner, Matt Barrett, posed for photos with Ms Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, when they arrived at her residence early on Friday.
Inside, he hailed Ms Harris and the wider US’s work on LGBT rights.
Mr Varadkar thanked Vice President Kamala Harris for her advocacy on the LGBT issue and for being a “strong ally”.
“From Stonewall to Sacramento to San Francisco, America has led the way when it comes to LGBT equality,” he said.
“I don’t think I would be here today were it not for what America did. I know you’ve been such a strong ally to our community in that regard.”
US Vice President Kamala Harris has said the new EU/UK deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland is an “essential step” to ensure peace and progress in the region.
Ms Harris highlighted President Joe Biden’s support for the Windsor Framework.
She said Northern Ireland’s peace was hard-won and should be cherished.
The vice president said the US administration viewed issues around Northern Ireland and the need to preserve the fundamentals of the Good Friday peace agreement “very seriously”.
“As President Biden has said, the Windsor Framework is an essential step to ensure peace and progress, and to ensure that it is strengthened and preserved,” she said.
Ahead of Friday’s events, Mr Varadkar was embroiled in a controversy after apologising for an “ill-judged” remark that was seen as an apparent reference to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.
While reminiscing about his experience as an intern in the United States, the Taoiseach made a reference to possible concern about being an intern in the US capital at the time.
Mr Varadkar made the remarks during an address to the Washington Ireland Programme, which helps young people develop career skills and which Mr Varadkar took part in, in 2000.
The Taoiseach’s comment came hours after attending an event honouring women’s role in the Good Friday Agreement, during which he praised Hillary Clinton for her sustained involvement in Northern Ireland.
A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said in a statement following the event: “He made an ill-judged, off-the-cuff remark which he regrets. He apologises for any offence caused to anyone concerned.”
Former US president Bill Clinton and Mrs Clinton are due to take a leading role in commemorations planned in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next month.
Monica Lewinsky was a young White House intern when she and the then-US president Bill Clinton embarked on a romance in the 1990s. She was pilloried for years after the scandal broke.
The affair almost forced Mr Clinton out of office and Ms Lewinsky has spoken about the devastating effect it had on her life in the years after.
Mr Varadkar sat beside Hillary Clinton at Thursday morning’s event at Georgetown University focusing on the role of women in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Friday’s political engagements will culminate with the Taoiseach handing over a crystal bowl of shamrocks to Mr Biden at the White House.