WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- In a day steeped in Irish traditions, President George W. Bush commemorated St. Patrick's Day on Wednesday and reaffirmed his administration's position that it would be able to work together with Ireland's leaders to bring peace to their country after nearly four decades of violence between Republicans and Unionists.
"Important work remains and the United States stands ready to do its part," Bush said.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern started a nearly daylong celebration of the St. Patrick's Day -- which is actually on Sunday -- presenting Bush with a crystal bowl filled with shamrocks, an annual gesture of goodwill between Ireland and the United States.
Bush told Ahern that he was "honored to accept it as a symbol of the strong and faithful friendship" between the two nations.
Then later in an East Room ceremony, Bush and first lady Laura Bush welcomed congressional leaders and government officials to join them and Irish political leaders for a reception. Sporting a blue suit and pale green tie, Bush said the people of Ireland knew both the threat of terror and the value of peace.
"America is encouraged with the great strides that have been made in implementing the Good Friday agreement," Bush said. He said progress was visible in the daily business of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the new class of police recruits drawn from all communities in the region and North-South Ministerial Council's promotion cross-border cooperation in agriculture and transportation.
"For all communities in Northern Ireland, there's only one future, and it must be a future of peace. Peacemaking can be hard work, like planting in hard soil. And as the Irish proverb tells us, you'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind," Bush said.
Political leaders in Ireland have been stalled in peace negotiations over disarmament issues included in the Good Friday Accords, which call for a shared government between Northern Ireland's Protestants and Catholics.
Bush also thanked Irish leaders for their support in the U.S.-led war against terrorist being waged in Afghanistan.
"And we're proud of your support. You've frozen the assets of terrorists. You're helping respond to terror by leading the Security Council of the United Nations," Bush said. And he paid tribute to Irish-American firefighters seated in the audience and praised their work in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"They represent the best of the United States when they displayed enormous strength and determination in the face of overwhelming tragedy," Bush said. "I want to tell you what I told you before: We remember your colleagues. We will not forget your colleagues who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others."
Bush, Ahern and David Trimble, the first minister of Northern Ireland, held brief, private talks in the Oval Office. Also in the White House for the reception was Sein Fein leader Gerry Adams. Sein Fein, which backed the Northern Ireland peace process, is seeking a half-dozen seats in the Irish parliament in upcoming elections.
Bush was set to travel to the U.S Capitol where he was to participate in the annual "Friends of Ireland" luncheon. And on Saturday he will travel to Chicago to participate in the St. Patrick's Day parade.