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Biden agrees with Varadkar’s call for Gaza ceasefire ‘as soon as possible’

Joe Biden has agreed with Leo Varadkar’s calls for a ceasefire in Gaza “as soon as possible”, and that a two-state solution is the only way to achieve lasting peace.

The US president said “we both know there’s a lot more that has to be done” in relation to the Middle East conflict, as he met the Irish premier at the White House on Friday.

Mr Varadkar also called on the US to push for peace in the Middle East, as had been done in Northern Ireland, in a separate meeting with the US vice-president Kamala Harris.

There has been political pressure on senior politicians to use the high-profile US visit for St Patrick’s Day to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and to end the spiralling numbers of deaths and injuries.

Mr Varadkar has been urged to use the White House meeting on Friday, and the shamrock bowl ceremony with Mr Biden on Sunday, to push for an end to Israel’s military operation in Gaza – including from a former Irish president.

In brief comments to the media moments before the bilateral in the White House, the Taoiseach said he was “keen to talk” about the situation in Gaza.

Addressing Mr Biden in the Oval Office, he said: “You’ll know my view that we need to have a ceasefire as soon as possible to get food and medicine in, get the 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 way we’ll have lasting peace and security.”

Mr Biden said “I agree” in response to Mr Varadkar’s comments on a ceasefire, and again to the two-state solution.

After the meeting, Mr Varadkar was asked whether military support the US is offering Israel would continue.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden hosted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the White House (Niall Carson/PA)

“The president was very clear that the US would continue to support Israel and to assist Israel to defend itself,” he said.

“So I don’t think that’s going to change, but I think none of us like to see American weapons being used the way they are, the way they are being used at the moment is not self-defence.”

The return of the powersharing institutions in Northern Ireland and economic ties between the US and Ireland were also items up for discussion between the two leaders.

The US president thanked Ireland for its “unwavering” assistance for Ukraine in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “onslaught” and “the savagery with which he’s attacking Ukrainians”.

Mr Biden was also asked whether he would return to Ireland, and said: “I always want to come back to Ireland.”

On Friday morning at a breakfast event with Ms Harris, Mr Varadkar commended her for showing “great courage and leadership” by indicating support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Taoiseach visit to the US
Earlier on Friday, the Taoiseach attended an event hosted by US vice-president Kamala Harris, centre (Niall Carson/PA)

“I’m sure it can’t have been easy, but it was the right thing to do and your words echoed all over the world,” he said.

Evoking the role the US played in brokering the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, Mr Varadkar added that the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza “will haunt us all for years to come”.

He added: “In Ireland, we know how quickly atrocities can lead to calls for vengeance, to creating new cycles of hatred and bitterness. But we also know that the cycle can be broken and that new hope can replace old hatreds.

“The United States helped us to find peace, now let us work together to build just and lasting peace in the Middle East for Israel, Palestine and its Arab neighbours.

“We know from our own story that finding peace can be a long and painful process, and it takes time to build trust and build relationships. American politicians on both sides of the aisle helped to encourage and nurture these relationships in Northern Ireland over many decades, and we thank-you all so much for that.”

Taoiseach visit to the US
US vice-president Kamala Harris, left, listens to an address by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a breakfast meeting in Washington (Niall Carson/PA)

Earlier in the day, former Irish president Mary Robinson had called on Mr Varadkar to use the meetings with Mr Biden to push for an end to US military and financial support for Israel.

She said he must make it clear to “all levels” of US politics “that Israel depends on the United States for military aid and for money, that’s what will change everything”.

Since Mr Varadkar began his US trip on Monday, he has spoken several times about how he will use the special platform of the St Patrick’s Day visit to press Mr Biden to back a ceasefire in Gaza, while also thanking the US for its leadership in support for Ukraine.

Mr Varadkar said the highlight of his trip so far was seeing Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly jointly address the Ireland Funds gala in Boston.

Speaking in the Oval Office on Friday, Mr Biden said he was “glad to see” the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly back up and running.

“That’s, from my perspective, a very positive step forward,” he said.