WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said he is extending the celebration of St. Patrick's Day by hosting Ireland's prime minister at the White House.
Obama and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny wore shamrocks in their jacket pockets as they met in the Oval Office on Tuesday, two days after the official celebration, which fell on a Sunday this year. "Thank you for giving me an excuse to break out my green tie," Obama said.
He praised Kenny's leadership through difficult economic times and said improvements in their economy helps in trade with the United States.
Obama noted that Irish airline Ryanair announced in the hours before their meeting that it is buying 175 Boeing aircraft.
"It's an example how the progress made in Ireland benefits jobs and businesses here in the United States," Obama said.
Obama also said they would touch on progress being made toward reconciliation with Northern Ireland.
"There's a lot more work to be done before there's true unity in that country," Obama said.
Kenny told reporters after the meeting that he had updated Obama on behalf of the European Union about efforts to reach a free trade deal with the U.S., a priority that Obama raised in his State of the Union address this year. Ireland holds the rotating EU presidency.
Obama was optimistic about prospects for a deal on immigration reform, Kenny said, adding that it's an issue of importance to the Irish people even though they make up a relatively small portion of U.S. immigrants.
"President Obama is very confident that the situation here can be dealt with in a reasonably short time," he said. "This is good news that we have welcomed very strongly."
Kenny added that there's a standing invitation for the president and first lady Michelle Obama to visit Ireland, even if Obama's schedule precludes him from stopping there as part of his trip to the upcoming G8 meeting of leading industrial nations, which is scheduled for June in neighboring Northern Ireland.
Obama was also planning to meet Tuesday with the joint British Protestant and Irish Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland's unity government, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
Obama and Kenny headed to the Capitol to join John Boehner, the Republican House of Representatives Speaker, for an annual luncheon including entertainment by Anthony Kearns of The Irish Tenors. The Obamas will also host an evening reception where the president will receive a bowl of shamrocks from Kenny. It's a tradition started under President Harry Truman.
Obama leaves Tuesday evening for a trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.