Uncertainty over Obama meeting

Brendan Hughes

THE first minister and deputy first minister will travel to Washington

next month as part of their annual trip to the US for St Patrick's Day. However, it is not known if DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness will meet US president Barack Obama. Failure to secure consensus on flags, parading and the past during talks led by senior US diplomat Richard Haass had led to speculation that the trip might be affected.

Mr McGuinness last month hinted that the US may regard St Patrick's Day as the deadline for resurrecting the haass proposals, but officials have since played down this suggestion.

The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister last night confirmed that the Stormont leaders would travel to the US next month for St Patrick's Day, but refused to give any details about the trip. However, it is understood that Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson will also travel to Silicon Valley as part of their annual trip.

They will attend meetings on both the east and west coasts during a four or five-day stay next month.

They are expected to first arrive in California and will visit the western state's technology strip in a bid to promote Northern Ireland. The ministers are also expected to travel to Washington for an annual meeting hosted by US vice-president Joe Biden.

Mr Biden phoned Mr Robinson on December 29 last year in a last-minute bid to press for a deal in the haass talks.

The White house later issued a statement expressing its disappointment when the process ended without agreement.


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