President Barack Obama joined leaders representing Britain, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan to convene the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. This year’s two-day summit will focus on issues concerning trade, economic growth and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
After arriving in Belfast, the president addressed over a thousand students belonging to the country’s predominantly segregated university system. His speech referenced the 1998 peace agreement reached between the British Protestant church and the Irish Catholic church as a symbol of hope for the “scattered corners of the world” where there are “people living in the grip of conflict, ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflicts.”
“Whether you reach your own outstretched hand across dividing lines, across peace walls, to build trust in a spirit of respect – that’s up to you,” Obama told the enthusiastic students.
The president, accompanied by the First Lady, reminded the students that they represent the “blueprint to follow,” saying that there are many people who have not “reaped the rewards of peace” and are “aren’t convinced that the effort is worth it.”
“There are still wounds that haven’t healed, and communities where tension and mistrust hangs in the air,” he added.
Beyond the conflicts plaguing different regions of the world, Obama also compared the Protestant-Catholic peace agreement to the United States’ civil war and the racial conflicts that still exist in the nation today. “Even a century after we achieved our own peace, we were not fully united,” he said.
The rest of Monday morning was defined by talks on a potential transatlantic free-trade agreement. Obama referenced the possible trade deal at his first press conference and confidently told reporters, “America and Europe have done extraordinary things together before and I believe that we can forge an economic alliance as strong as our diplomatic and security alliances, which of course, have been the most powerful in history.”
British prime minister David Cameron echoed the president and added, “The whole point of this meeting … is to fire up our economies and drive growth and prosperity around the world.”
The proceedings are expected to take a sharp turn once talks between Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin commence. The summit comes a week after the White House announced that it would increase its support of Syrian rebels, and a day after Putin harshly criticized this decision and labeled Syrian rebels as cannibals.