WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- President Obama welcomed Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to Washington Friday for an early St. Patrick's Day celebration and discussion of global issues.
"I think it's fair to say that there are very few countries around the world where the people-to-people ties are so strong," Obama said after a bilateral meeting with Kenny.
Obama noted that Ireland was hard-hit by the financial crisis and problems with its banking system required tough decisions that Kenny was willing to take.
"But what we've now seen is Ireland [emerging] from its assistance program in a much stronger position on the global stage and in global markets," Obama said. "And as a consequence, I think it's really well positioned to start building for the future and attracting businesses with a highly skilled and well-educated workforce."
Obama said he and Kenny discussed a range of global affairs, especially the crisis in Ukraine.
"Ireland has been a strong voice in the European Council for the need to send a clear message of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination, and a strong message to Russia that it should not violate the integrity and the sovereignty of its neighbor," he said. "We continue to hope that there's a diplomatic solution to be found, but the United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated."
Closer to home, both leaders expressed an interest in seeing Northern Ireland take steps necessary to bring an end "to what so often has been a tragic history," Obama said.
"I was disappointed, the U.S. government was disappointed that the All-Party Talks did not arrive at a final conclusion and agreement," the president said. "But we're urging the parties to continue to work and negotiate."
The two also discussed immigration reform, "which is an issue for Ireland and for many other countries, and we hope to pursue those discussions down at the Capitol building later on with a number of other representatives," Kinney said.
"I've given the president a review of the attitude and the happenings at the European Council meeting, particularly in relation to the situation in Ukraine," Kenny said. "And we hope that the entirety of message and strength of feeling can prevent very difficult circumstances arising there."