WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss Iran and Syria.
"We discussed the issue of Syria, and I gave the president a rundown on the last discussions at the European Council meeting," Kenny said after the meeting. "We also discussed the question of Iran and what the U.S. has said very clearly about this in the short time window that there is" to reach an agreement on that country's efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
White House officials did not elaborate on the private talks.
In public, Obama, who is part Irish, spoke about the strong bonds between the United States and Ireland.
"We have had a terrific discussion about a wide range of issues," the president said. "Obviously for both our countries, one of the biggest priorities is getting the economy moving in the right direction and putting our people back to work. And the taoiseach [Irish for the prime minister] described to me the steps that they've taken to try to stabilize the banking system there, to get control of their budget, and to be in position to grow in the future. "
Obama thanked Kenny "for the continued exemplary efforts by the men and women in uniform in Ireland who contribute to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts all around the world, from Kosovo to Lebanon. As I've said before, Ireland punches above its weight internationally."
Kenny said he gave Obama "a rundown on the decisions taken by my government in the last 12 months to stabilize our public finances and to put our own house in order, but also to play a part ... in the European Union is so important in a global sense. ... I gave the president a rundown on the changes in the structure of banks, the decisions taken by government in relation to the public sector numbers, the forcing down of costs and therefore the increase in competitiveness, and to report to him signs of confidence returning to the Irish economy. But we still have a very long way to go. Otherwise we've had a good, solid start but clearly there are challenges ahead."
Obama referred to last weekend's celebrations.
"Technically, it's not St. Patrick's Day," the president said. "We like to prolong the party around here." Besides most Americans who celebrate the holiday aren't Irish, he said.
St. Patrick's Day was Saturday.
Obama, like Kenny, wore clover in his suit jacket pocket.
Kenny said he was impressed with the "outpouring of enthusiasm" he saw during a visit to Chicago.
Kenny's White House visit is part of a six-day U.S. visit -- he's already touched down in New York and Chicago, where he took part in the St. Patrick's Day parade Saturday.
During an evening reception at the White House, Obama said the Irish have done "remarkable things" but "the green strands they have woven into America's heart -- from their tiniest villages through our greatest cities -- is something truly unique on the world stage."
"And these strands of affection will never fray, nor will they come undone," he said.
When it was his turn to propose a toast, Kenny said "the Irish people are heroes of our own story. Today, persistent and determined and proud, we answer your question of belief in ourselves, because we believe that our country and our nation will succeed."
"Mr. President, like you, we believe that Ireland's best days are still up ahead," he said. "And like you, we believe that our greatest triumphs are still to come."