US president Joe Biden is not anti-British, the White House insisted as he began a series of engagements on the island of Ireland.
In Belfast, Biden said he was there to “listen” as he had a cup of tea with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The White House said he would use the trip to reaffirm support for the Good Friday Agreement, 25 years after the peace deal was reached, and to encourage the restoration of powersharing – something that collapsed due to the DUP’s protest over post-Brexit rules.
At the meeting with Sunak in a Belfast hotel, Biden faced a volley of questions from reporters – including if he had a message for Northern Irish parties and why he was not discussing a trade deal while on his visit to the UK.
But he declined to answer, instead commenting on the “heck of a view” from the upper floors of the Grand Central Hotel.
Sunak, smiling, sat a table with the US President as the pair met over cups of tea.
Mr Biden, who is intensely proud of his Irish ancestry, has been criticised by senior DUP figures, with MP Sammy Wilson claiming the president “has got a record of being pro-Republican, anti-Unionist, anti-British” while former first minister Baroness Foster has suggested he “hates the UK”.
But the suggestion he was anti-British was rejected by Amanda Sloat, senior director for Europe at the US National Security Council, who said: “It’s simply untrue – the fact that the president is going to be engaging for the third time in three months, and then again next month and then again in June, with the Prime Minister of the UK shows how close our co-operation is with the UK.
“And before that, the president had numerous calls and meeting with prime minister Johnston, and prime minister Truss as well.”
Ms Sloat went on: “President Biden obviously is a very proud Irish-American, he is proud of those Irish roots, but he is also a strong supporter of our bilateral partnership with the UK, and not only on a bilateral basis within Nato, the G7, on the UN Security Council, and we truly are working in lockstep with the British Government on all of the pressing global challenges that our countries are facing.”