Obama Tells Belfast Audience They Are Example of Power of Peace

President Barack Obama invoked a traditional blessing to promise the people of Northern Ireland that in their efforts to maintain peace the U.S. “will always be a wind at your back.”

Obama arrived in the province for a two-day summit of leaders of the Group of Eight nations this morning, 15 years after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement helped end decades of sectarian strife between Catholics and Protestants.

He began the visit by telling students gathered at Belfast’s Waterfront Convention Center that throughout the world their country is now “an example for those who seek a peace of their own.”

The civil war in Syria, which threatens to exacerbate sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East, is shaping up as a dominant issue at the summit, which begins today in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland.

For those now “in the grip of conflict,” Obama said, “You’re their blueprint to follow. You are their proof of what’s possible.”

The economic agenda for G-8 leaders also includes steps to combat illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance through profit-shifting among countries. Obama will push for increasing international disclosure requirements for individuals and institutions.

On the sidelines, Obama also will meet with European leaders to discuss a transatlantic trade pact the U.S. and European Union are preparing to negotiate.

Putin Meeting

One of his individual discussions will be later today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war.

The summit includes leaders from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.

First Lady Michelle Obama and the president’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, who accompanied him to Belfast, will travel to Dublin, Ireland, for the duration of the summit. Their itinerary includes a tour of Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university, and archives the college has gathered that document the Obamas’ Irish ancestry. They will also attend a performance of Celtic dance company Riverdance.

Obama and his family will continue on to Berlin with an itinerary that includes a presidential speech at the city’s Brandenburg Gate and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before returning to the U.S.

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