US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has touted London as Washington’s closest ally, but added that Britain should focus on maintaining “stability” in Northern Ireland, which was recently hit by Brexit-related tensions.
“The United States has no closer ally, no closer partner than the United Kingdom, and I’m glad of the chance to say that again here today”, Blinken stressed during a joint Downing Street conference with his British counterpart Dominic Raab on Monday.
He added that the two countries are currently “connected by ties of friendship, family, history, shared values, and shared sacrifice”.
“We’re connected. It’s often said but always important to reaffirm”, Blinken pointed out.
The top US diplomat also touched upon Afghanistan, saying that the US and the UK “stood shoulder to shoulder for nearly 20 years, sharing a mission and having each other’s backs. We’ll never forget it”.
In April, President Joe Biden announced plans to fully withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, despite the 2020 US-Taliban peace deal having set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the pullout.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in turn, last month revealed the alliance's plans to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 1 May, adding that NATO intends to complete the withdrawal within a few months.
On the issue of Northern Ireland, Blinken said that “like several US presidents before him, President Biden has been unequivocal in his support for the Good Friday Agreement which was a historic achievement and one that we should protect”.
The Good Friday Agreement is a document that was inked in 1998 between the British and Irish governments, as well as most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The agreement is widely known as a document that brought decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland to an end.
During the London press conference, the US secretary of state described his country as “a steadfast supporter of a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland, in which all communities have a voice and can enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace”.
“As Brexit-related provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol begin to be implemented, we will continue to encourage the UK to prioritise political and economic stability”, Blinken underscored.
Northern Ireland Riots
The top US diplomat spoke a few weeks after violence escalated in Northern Ireland, where members of the unionist community, who wish for the country to remain part of the UK, hurled stones, fireworks, and petrol bombs at police officers during sporadic clashes.
The UK government's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, told the House of Commons in mid-April that at least 88 police officers were injured in the clashes, and that 18 people had been arrested.
The unrest started after the Northern Ireland prosecutor's office refused to charge members of the republican party Sinn Fein, who despite coronavirus restrictions attended the funeral of IRA member Bobby Storey.
Unionists have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the trade deal rules stipulating that animal and food products entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK must undergo checks upon arrival to ensure compliance with EU regulations. Since the agreement came into force, some supermarkets in Northern Ireland have suffered food shortages.