- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2013

The peace that’s settled over Northern Ireland over the past 15 years gives hope to other nations embroiled in conflict and is “proof of what is possible,” President Obama said Monday morning during a speech at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

But he said the people of Northern Ireland — where “peace lines” still divide neighborhoods and where Catholic-Protestant tensions still simmer beneath the surface — have much work to do if they want their peace to remain intact. Mr. Obama drew clear parallels to other troubled regions of the world where war and discord still reign, saying Northern Ireland represents a “blueprint” for how peace, however fragile, can be achieved. It can only be maintained through courage, he added.

“Whenever your peace is attacked, you will have to choose whether to respond with the same bravery that you’ve summoned so far or whether you succumb to the worst instincts, those impulses that kept this great land divided for too long. You’ll have to choose whether to keep going forward, not backward,” Mr. Obama said during his first formal remarks at this year’s Group of Eight summit, held at a golf resort in Enneskillen, Northern Ireland.

Enniskellen was specifically chosen by British Prime Minister David Cameron to highlight Northern Ireland’s progress in moving past its more than four-decade conflict that claimed nearly 4,000 lives. The U.S. helped broker 1998’s Good Friday Accords that brought an end to the conflict.

The nation’s next major challenge was laid out by Catholic and Protestant leaders of the Northern Ireland government last month. They’ve put forth a plan to take apart all peace lines within the next decade, an ambitious goal but one that’s backed by Mr. Cameron.

Mr. Obama also threw his weight behind the plan.

SEE ALSO: U.S. leadership on Syria brings long-awaited relief to Group of Eight allies

“If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden — that too encourages division. It discourages cooperation,” Mr. Obama said.

At the G-8 summit, the member nations — the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Russia, Japan and Italy — will tackle ongoing conflicts across the globe while also devoting attention to fiscal matters such as tax policy.

The ongoing Syrian civil war will be the chief topic of discussion in light of new U.S. policy to directly arm the opposition forces fighting against that country’s president, Bashar Assad, who has used chemical weapons such as sarin gas in the fight.

The decision to arm rebel forces has been welcomed by European allies such as France and Great Britain, but it’s been met with resistance from nations such as Russia.

Mr. Obama will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday night amid tensions between the two nations on Syria policy. Mr. Putin, whose nation remains an ally of the Assad government, has strongly criticized the American decision to more aggressively support rebel forces in Syria.

Mr. Obama is expected to address reporters later Monday morning.

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