Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Biden, Blending the Personal and the Diplomatic, Thanks Ireland for Backing Ukraine

In an emotional address to the Irish Parliament on Thursday, President Biden thanked the Irish people for their support of Ukraine, cited a favorite Irish poet and recounted old family stories amid a three-day trip that is both a personal journey and an exercise in global diplomacy.

“Today, the United States and Ireland are standing together to oppose Russia’s brutal aggression and to support the brave people of Ukraine,” Mr. Biden said before a packed and enthusiastic legislative chamber.

Mr. Biden, who has embraced his Irish roots as a central part of his political identity for decades, was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation by Irish lawmakers as he entered the lower house, called the Dáil Éireann.

The president put his hand over his heart, relishing the kind of unanimous support he rarely gets from Congress. He beamed at an Irish lawmaker who was cradling an infant and, in his opening remarks, said his trip felt like coming home. He suggested that he was perhaps not ready to leave.

“I’m at home,” he said wistfully. “I only wish I could stay longer.”

The lawmakers appeared willing to have him for as long as he wanted. In his introduction of the president, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, speaker of Dáil Éireann, said Mr. Biden was “amongst friends, because you are one of us,” adding that “you’ve been here, to quote the well-known song, in sunshine and in shadow.”

Toward the end of his speech, Mr. Biden, who says he is planning — but hasn’t yet confirmed — to run for re-election in 2024, made a rare reference to his age.

“I’m at the end of my career, not the beginning,” he said. “The only thing I bring to this career — and you can see how old I am — is a little bit of wisdom.”

The president does not often directly confront the question of his age. At 80, he is the oldest president in American history, and if he wins a second term, he would be 86 at the end of his presidency. His comment on Thursday night suggests that if he runs, he will make the argument that age brings wisdom that is useful in the Oval Office.

“I come to the job with more experience than any president in American history,” he said. “Doesn’t make me better or worse. But it gives me few excuses.”

The State of the War

Mr. Biden’s speech was laden with references to the poet Seamus Heaney, his Irish heritage and his mother. He introduced himself to the lawmakers as “the proud son of Catherine Eugenia Biden” and said that his greatest regret was that “my mother is not here today.”

He recounted a story in which he said that his grandfather Ambrose Finnegan had once warned his young grandson to be more like a prime minister figure than a revolutionary. “He said, ‘You’ve got to be less like a military guy: They shot him.’”

The line drew laughter and applause.

The president devoted a large part of his speech to a continuation of his efforts to shore up the global alliance on behalf of Ukraine, highlighting Ireland’s humanitarian assistance and its acceptance of some 80,000 refugees who have fled the country.

Many of those refugees are being lodged in hotels throughout Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland, a country where housing is in short supply and expensive. Mr. Biden praised Ireland’s willingness to accept Ukrainians who have fled the violence in their country, noting that the Irish have been welcoming to the refugees because of the history of their own nation.

Before addressing Parliament, Mr. Biden met on Thursday with Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, and thanked him for welcoming Ukrainians.

“I know it’s not easy,” Mr. Biden said.

In turn, Mr. Varadkar told Mr. Biden he “never thought, in my lifetime, that we would see a war of this nature happen in Europe again.”

“If it wasn’t for American leadership, and if it wasn’t for America and Europe working together, I don’t know what kind of world we would live in,” he added.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

As they spoke, the vicious, monthslong fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut appeared to be coming down on Thursday to a 20-block section of the battered city, though Ukrainian commanders vowed to hang on.

Also on Thursday, the German government approved a Polish request to export five MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine that once belonged to the East German armed forces. That brings to 13 the number of MIG-29s sent to Ukraine from Poland and Slovakia.

In his remarks, Mr. Biden lashed out at President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and accused him of miscalculating the world’s reaction when he sent troops into Ukraine last year.

“I’ve known Putin for over 25 years,” he said. “Putin thought the world would look the other way. That’s what he thought. But he was wrong. He was wrong on every point and every front. Today we’re more united and more determined than ever to defend the values that make us strong.”

He said Ireland’s help supporting sanctions against Mr. Putin, his associates and his government had made it easier to hold the Russian leader accountable for his actions and to maintain pressure on the Russian government to eventually abandon its efforts to crush Ukraine’s spirit.

Mr. Biden’s remarks come a day after he stopped briefly in Northern Ireland to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace deal that largely ended decades of deadly sectarian violence known as the Troubles.

During his meetings in Belfast, Mr. Biden studiously avoided being drawn into the details of the continuing domestic disputes between the political parties in Northern Ireland. Aides declined to comment on repeated questions about stalled negotiations about power sharing in the territory.

In his remarks before the lawmakers, Mr. Biden said that 25 years of relative peace among the factions in Northern Ireland had helped to accelerate economic prosperity in the territory. But he said the gains were fragile.

“Peace, even as it has become a lived reality for an entire generation of young people, peace is precious,” he said. “It still needs champions. It still needs to be nurtured.”

During his time in Ireland, the president has also sought to deflect questions about political issues brewing back in the United States, like the administration’s response to a judge’s ruling on an abortion pill.

Mr. Biden and his top aides are hoping to keep attention focused on Ireland for the duration of the trip, which the president has made clear is very personal to him.

The moments of diplomacy — including meetings on Thursday with the prime minister and the president of Ireland — have been sandwiched between visits to Mr. Biden’s ancestral hometowns in County Louth and County Mayo.

In remarks at a bar in Dundalk on Wednesday evening, Mr. Biden compared Ireland and the United States, saying the same quality powers the success of both countries.

“Hope. Every action is about hope,” he said. “It can make things better. And hope that built both our nations and has been passed down, generation to generation, by our families. And it’s hope that continues to this day.”

At Parliament, the president focused on the democratic ideals of both American and Irish governments, telling the lawmakers that both nations had known “hardship and division,” but that “we’ve also found solace and sympathy in one another.”

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