President Obama arrived in Northern Ireland Monday for the Group of Eight meeting, where he and other heads of state will discuss a number of uncomfortable issues:
His long delay in more aggressively supporting Syria’s beleaguered opposition forces — a move that his administration announced in the form of expanded military aid on the eve of his visit here — has frustrated the leaders of France and Germany. The recent disclosure of the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance has angered many European politicians, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he will see on both stops of his three-day visit.
And the expansion throughout his term of drone warfare has disillusioned a once-adoring European public — and, to a lesser degree, its more pragmatic political leaders. Reflecting that disappointment, the French newspaper Le Monde headlined an article this month about the NSA’s surveillance programs: “George W. Obama and National Security.”
Meanwhile, Russia has supported the Syrian government with weapons and questioned the White House’s decision to send arms to the rebels. Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin were scheduled to meet Monday.
Separately, Obama and a group of European leaders announced that they would begin negotiating a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. Speaking to an audience of students in Belfast earlier, Obama said that Northern Ireland is a model of how peace can be achieved, even in regions with a long history of conflict:
Obama urged the young people to defend their fragile peace and said they could count on the United States when the so-called Good Friday Agreement, brokered by former senator George Mitchell (D-Maine), is tested, as it has been this year. . .
Addressing the Belfast students, who comprised the majority of the audience here Monday, he said, “Your generation has come of age in a world with fewer walls.”
“You’ve been educated in an era of instant information. You’ve been tempered by some very difficult times,” he continued. “And from what I’ve seen of young people like you around the world, these currents have conspired to make you a generation possessed by both clear-eyed realism but also optimistic idealism — a generation keenly aware of the world as it is and eager to forge the world as it should be.”. . .
Belfast has echoed this year with the history of its conflict. The “peace walls” that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, the symbols and flags of “the Troubles,” and the powerful men who fought and negotiated an end to the strife endure, for the most part. Earlier this year, the Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the Union flag could fly above City Hall, provoking loyalist demonstrations in the city’s restive eastern neighborhoods.
The diplomatic questions under discussion there, however, might have been overshadowed by other news, including a report that the U.S. and British governments monitored communications of foreign diplomats in London in 2009, and a controversy over a Super Bowl ring that originally belonged to Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and is now at the Kremlin.