Biden, Irish PM talk Gaza ceasefire in St. Patrick's Day event


By Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw

WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar pledged on Friday to work to secure a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza cast a shadow on the annual St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House.

"We both know a lot more has to be done," Biden said about the situation in Gaza ahead of the bilateral meeting with Varadkar.

The Irish leader, after talking about the strong cultural and economic ties between the two countries, said he would like to see a ceasefire in fighting as soon as possible, and that the two leaders will discuss ways to make that happen.

Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan hosted a breakfast during which Varadkar commended Harris on her recent remarks in support of an immediate six-week ceasefire.

"Like you, we call for the unconditional and immediate release of all of the hostages, a very significant increase in humanitarian aid, food, medicine, sanitation, electricity, and an end to the fighting by both sides, Israel and Hamas," Varadkar said. "And we support the work of the United States."

Biden said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's call on Thursday for new elections in Israel and harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace was a "good speech" but added that he would not elaborate.

Biden, who often speaks of his Irish heritage and is fond of quoting Irish poets, visited Ireland last April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and expressed his support for the peace deal.

The U.S. president is also expected to speak at the Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol hosted by House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican. Biden and Johnson have publicly sparred over funding for Ukraine and Israel and the event will offer a rare occasion for the two to demonstrate they can find common ground.

"I am urging our Congress to do its part," Biden said on Friday regarding stalled legislation to provide aid to Ukraine and Gaza.

Ireland has traditionally been one of Western Europe's strongest critics of Israeli policies toward Palestinians and maintains a long-held policy of military neutrality.

The SDLP, a nationalist party in Northern Ireland, said it was not sending any representatives to Washington this week.

Last month, Ireland announced more than $21 million in support for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) after it plunged into crisis, and is in talks with other EU members who want a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the basis that Israel may be breaching its human rights clause.

The White House said the two leaders would discuss support for Ukraine, coordination on the war in the Middle East, and reaffirm their support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington; Additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Bill Berkrot)

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