- By Niall Glynn, Ross McKee and Iain McDowell
- BBC IS News
US President Joe Biden said his priority was to “keep the peace” in Northern Ireland as he boarded Air Force One to visit Belfast.
His Holiness will come to the city tonight to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement.
The 1998 agreement ended the Troubles – a decades-long violent conflict in Northern Ireland that left thousands dead.
A huge security operation was launched in Belfast for Mr. Biden’s visit.
While he praised what politicians did to ensure peace in 1998, his visit was overshadowed by the fact that Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government was inactive.
It collapsed last year when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – one of the largest parties in Stormont – withdrew as part of a protest against post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.
Before his arrival, Mr. Biden said: “I look forward to celebrating in Belfast that underscores America’s commitment to keeping peace and promoting prosperity.”
His visit to Belfast will be the first leg of a four-day stay in Ireland, during which he will discuss his Irish roots and meet Irish relatives.
Read more about Biden’s visit
A spokesman for the president said Mr Biden was “very comfortable making this trip” despite the terrorist threat.
The President leaves Washington DC on Air Force One at around 10:00 EDT (15:00 BST) and will meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when he lands at Belfast International Airport afterwards.
Police warned of traffic delays around the airport as officers facilitated the presidential motorcade.
He is expected to stay at a hotel in downtown Belfast and while his visit to Northern Ireland is much shorter than originally planned, Downing Street has dismissed these claims. the opinion that this would be a “less important” event.
It is understood he will use that to emphasize the willingness of the United States to help maintain what he sees as the peace and prosperity achieved since the Good Friday Agreement.
The president is also expected to talk about how the US administration can support Northern Ireland’s economy.
And he is expected to meet the leaders of Stormont’s five main political parties at some point during his brief stay in the city.
There has been a large police presence in central Belfast since Monday afternoon and that will continue through Tuesday and into Wednesday.
On Bedford Street, police officers are patrolling barricades near the Grand Central Hotel but pedestrians can pass and businesses in the area are operating as normal.
There was some tension behind the scenes about the details of this visit.
Things have grown tense between Downing Street and the White House over what the president will do in Northern Ireland and the fact that he won’t be going to Stormont.
Rishi Sunak desperately wants his moment – after all, this is the US president’s visit to the UK under his supervision.
He will greet the president at the bottom of the steps of Air Force One this evening and have half an hour set aside for a private meeting on Wednesday – but no more than that.
The Prime Minister will not be at Ulster University with other politicians during the president’s only public engagement in Belfast.
The fact that he would be doing other things elsewhere in Northern Ireland at the time shows how important this visit was.
Michelle O’Neill, vice president of Sinn Féin, the largest party in Stormont, said Mr Biden’s visit would be a special moment “consolidating our close friendship”.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Mr Biden’s visit could have a positive effect on restoring power sharing at Stormont, but warned US influence over Northern Ireland needed to be handled with care.
“There is a difference between influence and pressure – one tends to be positive and the other can be negative,” Mr Blair said.
“One thing I’ve learned about unionists is that if you try to pressure them into doing something they fundamentally disagree with, it’s usually futile pressure.”
Former Ireland ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall said Mr Biden would rather speak to politicians at an active Stormont council, but said the message of the president’s visit to Northern Ireland was essentially American. here to help.
Although Mr Sunak will not be meeting any of Northern Ireland’s political leaders while he is in Belfast, Downing Street said this does not mean he has given up on bringing the DUP back to power sharing.
Mr. Biden will leave Belfast on Wednesday afternoon for the Republic of Ireland for three days of events in Louth and Mayo counties – where he has relatives – as well as Dublin.
He talks frequently about his Irish heritage and has promised to visit the country during his presidency.
An American genealogist who has studied his lineage has estimated that he is “about five-eighths” Irish.
Among his great-grandfathers was Edward Blewitt, an engineer and bricklayer who left the west coast town of Ballina in County Mayo in 1850.
He settled in Scranton in Pennsylvania when the devastating potato famine in Ireland was causing widespread famine.
President Biden’s great-grandfather, Owen Finnegan, left Carlingford in County Louth in the late 1840s for America.
Declan Harvey and Tara Mills explore the text of the Good Friday Agreement – the agreement that heralds the end of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
They look at what the deal really says and hear from some of the people who helped reach the deal.