Biden, Irish PM set for virtual Saint Patrick's Day talks
St. Patrick's Day

President Joe Biden will express support for the Northern Ireland peace agreement in the face of Brexit-related tensions on Wednesday when he meets Ireland's prime minister Micheal Martin for virtual Saint Patrick's Day celebrations.

Biden and Martin have plenty of serious matters to discuss in their bilateral video talks, especially concerns for the future of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland following Britain's chaotic exit from the European Union.

But Biden, who is only the second Roman Catholic president in US history and is proud of his Irish ancestry, is also placing plenty of focus on the Saint Patrick's Day events.

The White House said Biden would attend morning Mass at a church in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware before making the trip back to Washington for his long-distance get-together.

As every year since 1952, the meeting will include a presentation of shamrocks -- small sprigs of clover that symbolize Ireland. Despite Biden and Martin being unable to gather in person, the traditional bowl holding the gift is not being left out.

"The Irish government have sent a beautiful engraved bowl," a senior Biden administration told reporters, asking not to be identified. "We will be able to preserve this part of the bilateral meeting."

"We are determined to fully celebrate the holiday," the official said, noting that Biden had instructed staff to arrange things "as close to the way" they would be in person as possible.

The official said Biden will "reaffirm the historic partnership and the extraordinary people-to-people ties between our two countries."

Peace agreement worries

One thing Biden and the Irish leader are likely to focus on is coordination of efforts to get the global economy back on track through mass coronavirus vaccinations and a "sustainable" recovery, the administration official said.

The Irish prime minister will also hear Biden's support for the Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended decades of violent unrest in the British province of Northern Ireland.

Biden wants to express "strong support for this agreement and our commitment to advancing that hard-won peace," the official said.

There is concern in Washington that a post-Brexit row between London and the EU over customs controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is threatening the complex political balance underpinning the deal.

"President Biden has been unequivocal in his support for the Good Friday Agreement... not (to) become a casualty of Brexit," the administration official said.

Biden "encourages both sides to continue prioritizing economic and political stability," the official said.

As for the border issue, "we view that as a trade issue to be resolved between the UK and the EU," the official said.