US President Barack Obama has delivered a speech in Belfast ahead of the two-day G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Before the meeting, Obama was to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Britain's David Cameron.
In his first public address in Northern Ireland, US President Barack Obama had to follow his wife Michelle and a young girl Helen when speaking to an audience of mainly young schoolchildren and students.
Michelle Obama spoke of the importance of learning respect at a young age in readiness for later life.
"Standing here with all of you today, I have never felt more optimistic, because time and again I have seen young people like you choosing to work together, choosing to lift each other up," Obama said, before introducing her husband, saying: "I let him travel with me every now and then."
He went on to tell an anecdote about tracking down his eighth-cousin, Henry, living in the small village of Moneygall in southern Ireland on his first visit to the island. Not knowing about his ties to the country before his visit, Obama said he new his cousin must be a blood relative "because his ears flapped out, just like mine." Like his wife, Obama spoke mainly of the young generation in Ireland, talking of "a world with fewer walls" and "an era of instant information."
"You are the first generation in this land to inherit more than just the hardened attitudes and the bitter prejudices of the past, you are the inheritors of a just and well-earned peace; you now live in a thoroughly modern Northern Ireland," Obama said.
The president then said that the Irish peace process would serve as a blueprint for those living in conflict around the world, warning that the reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants could still be tested. He said that people should respond with the same bravery that made the initial peace deal possible in the event of difficulties.
Private talks, public summit
Obama was also scheduled for his first face-to-face private talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a year on the sidelines of the summit at the Lough Erne golf resort near the Northern Irish town on Enniskillen.
After evening talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin said that Russia had conformed with international standards when selling weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"We are not breaching any rules and norms and we call on our partners to act in the same fashion," Putin said, in an apparent reference to recent decisions from the US and some EU members like France and Britain to send military support to Syrian rebels.
The German government has said it does not currently plan to send weaponry to either side in Syria's civil war.
As well as the Syrian conflict, a possible EU-US free trade pact, counterterrorism measures and coordination in the fight against tax evasion are likely to feature during the two-day summit.
The G8 is made up of the US, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Canada and Russia.
msh/rc (AFP, AP Reuters)