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Oval Office

'I agree': President Biden accepts Taoiseach's call for Gaza ceasefire 'as soon as possible'

The decision to proceed with the St Patrick’s Day trip this year has come under intense scrutiny due to the US’ support for Israel.

LAST UPDATE | 14 hrs ago

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden has agreed with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a ceasefire and two-state solution are necessary to achieve peace in Gaza as the two leaders met in the Oval Office.

The Taoiseach, on his annual trip stateside to mark St Patrick’s Day, told Biden: “I’m keen to talk about the situation in Gaza as well. You’ll know my view is that we need a ceasefire as soon as possible to get food and medicine in and to get hostages out.”

“We need to talk about how we can make that happen and move towards a two-state solution, which I think is the only we’ll have lasting peace and security,” Varadkar said.

Biden said briefly: “I agree.” 

The US has repeatedly vetoed resolutions at the United Nations Security Council seeking to call for a ceasefire, but Biden’s language in more recent weeks has shifted towards calling for a humanitarian ceasefire to bring aid in to Gaza and allow the release of hostages, with the US trying to facilitate a negotiated deal.

The two leaders sat together in the Oval Office and made short remarks to each other about their priorities.

Speaking in front of journalists, Biden said Ireland and the US are “good friends” and celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He spoke about the creation of jobs through partnerships between Ireland and the States.

Drawing on the same ideas about a “shared heritage” that he focused on during his trip to Ireland last year, the American President said: “I know there are all kinds of old Irish sayings, but my grandfather Finegan used to say, may the hinge of our friendship never go rusty.”

Like Vice-President Kamala Harris earlier this morning, he mentioned Gaza of his own accord only briefly: “We’re working together to increase humanitarian assistance in Gaza and we both know that a whole lot more has to be done.”

He gave more attention to Ukraine, thanking Varadkar for Ireland’s humanitarian assistance and saying he is urging the US Congress to pass a bill on aid for Ukraine that has caused weeks of political division.

Biden said he was glad to see the Northern Ireland Assembly functioning again, calling it a “very positive step forward”. 

He was asked about a speech made last night by the Democratic party’s leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, that called for elections in Israel in a criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.

“Senator Schumer contacted my staff, my senior staff, that he was going to make that speech. I’m not going to elaborate on his speech. He made a good speech, and I think he expressed a serious concern that’s shared not only by him but by many Americans,” Biden said. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there were four key issues he wanted to speak to Biden about. He dealt first with the resumption of the Northern Ireland Assembly and diplomatic relations between Ireland and the US, saying he was “very keen to talk about that and the strength of our economic relationship, which now increasingly goes both ways”.

He then turned to his call for action on Gaza, with Biden briefly adding that he agreed with the Taoiseach.

Finally, Varadkar thanks America for its “leadership on Ukraine”.

president-joe-biden-meets-with-irish-prime-minister-leo-varadkar-in-the-oval-office-of-the-white-house-friday-march-15-2024-in-washington-ap-photoevan-vucci Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“We’re very worried about the situation there and we don’t think that if Putin is successful in Ukraine he’ll stop there. We really need your continued support and leadership on Ukraine and I look forward to speaking to the congressional leaders about that as well later on,” he said.

“We’ll have a European Council meeting next week of the 27 EU prime ministers so they’re going to be very keen to know what I learned here in Washington. That’s a fight we’ve got to win.”

Later, after their meeting, Varadkar said Biden was very clear to him that the US will continue to support Israel.

“The president was very clear that the US would continue to support Israel and to assist Israel to defend itself, so I don’t think that is going to change.

“I think none of us like to see American weapons being used in the way they are,” he said. 

Varadkar clarified that the US president raised the issue of US military support for Israel The Taoiseach added that there is a difference between self defence and what is happening now, which is why there needs to be an immediate ceasefire called.

Biden was also asked if he believed a ceasefire could be called before Ramadan ends, and he responded by crossing his fingers, as a sign of wishing for luck.

He also said that the pair again discussed the restoration of Northern Ireland’s Assembly and the US’ support for peace in Northern Ireland. 

The decision for Varadkar to proceed with the trip this year has come under intense scrutiny due to the US’ financial support for Israel’s military as it bombards Gaza, where more than 31,000 people – many of them women and children – have been killed since October.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, who has clashed with Government leaders in the Dáil, over the trip, has said Irish politicians should have boycotted the usual St Patrick’s Day events in the US to “send a message across America and the world that Ireland stands with the people of Palestine”.

In January, Palestinian Ambassador Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid said she would respect politicians’ decisions but that if they chose to went, they should use the trip to raise Gaza’s plight in meetings with Biden.

On Monday, during his first speech of the trip, Varadkar called for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Speaking at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, he said: “The cries of the innocent will haunt us forever if we stay silent.”

Earlier today, the Taoiseach met Vice-President Kamala Harris at her residence for breakfast, where both addressed a room of guests.

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Author
Lauren Boland and Christina Finn