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Biden prepares to arrive in Belfast as UK urges DUP to return to Stormont

US president Joe Biden is set to arrive in Belfast on Tuesday night to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as London urged the region’s biggest unionist party to end its boycott of Northern Ireland’s political institutions.

Biden’s visit, which will be followed by a longer trip to the Republic of Ireland, comes on the heels of a new UK-EU deal covering post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland, known as the Windsor framework.

The president’s trip comes after almost a year of political limbo in Northern Ireland caused by the post-Brexit trade regime. It also comes after police last week raised the terrorism threat level.

Police had warned of possible violence at an Easter Monday march in Londonderry, also known as Derry. A few youths threw petrol bombs at a police van but the incident quickly petered out without injury.

Washington, nevertheless, said the US president was “more than comfortable making this trip”.

“The president is grateful for the work that the Northern Ireland security services have done, and continue to do, to protect all communities, and certainly the people in Northern Ireland,” said US national security council spokesman John Kirby.

Biden, who often boasts of his Irish heritage and Catholic faith, will arrive in Belfast on Air Force One and will be greeted by UK prime minister Rishi Sunak. The two leaders are expected to meet again on Wednesday morning before Biden delivers a speech marking the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The peace deal, signed on April 10 1998, ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland and established a power-sharing government at Stormont involving the region’s unionist and nationalist communities. The US administration at the time played a pivotal role in the complex talks that led to the signing of the Good Friday accord.

On Monday, Sunak praised the “bravery, perseverance and political imagination” that led to the peace deal and called on politicians in the region to “get on with the business of governance”.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government at Stormont since May last year after the Democratic Unionist party boycotted it in protest over the original post-Brexit deal for the region. Sunak said the Windsor framework removed many of the problems but the DUP says more changes are needed to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

Biden earlier this year praised the Windsor framework as an “essential step to ensuring that the hard-earned peace and progress” of the Good Friday Agreement was “preserved and strengthened”.

At the time, he called for government in Stormont to be restored, saying: “Those institutions embody the principle of devolved, power-sharing, representative government at the core of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Biden and Sunak are expected to stress that Northern Ireland’s unique post-Brexit access to both the UK and EU markets makes it an attractive business destination.

The US president is expected to spend less than 24 hours in Northern Ireland. After delivering his speech in Belfast on Wednesday, he is scheduled to head south of the border, to Dublin, where over the course of several days he will hold talks with Ireland’s president Michael D Higgins and taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar said last week that Biden’s visit was an “opportunity to celebrate and renew the strong political, economic and personal ties that bind” the US and Ireland, and to “welcome a great Irish-American president home”.

Biden is expected to meet distant cousins in counties Louth and Mayo, with the four-day trip culminating in a speech on Friday night in Ballina, on the west coast of Ireland.

Biden is not set to meet King Charles III, the British monarch, during his short visit to the UK; the president’s wife Jill will represent him at next month’s coronation. Biden was expected to make a state visit to Britain in the “near future”, the White House said last week.

Additional reporting by Robert Wright in London

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