Pelosi vows to thwart US-UK trade deal if Brexit risks Irish peace

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, left, greets Nancy Pelosi at Goverment buildings in Dublin. An American trade pact with Britain is doomed if the latter’s withdrawal from the EU undermines the Northern Ireland peace accord, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

Pelosi vows to thwart US-UK trade deal if Brexit risks Irish peace

  • Donald Trump and senior advisers to Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson have spoken recently of fast-tracking a bilateral trade deal once Brexit is complete
  • Any such agreement would need the green light from Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — Trump’s political nemesis on Capitol Hill — made clear she would not play ball if the Irish peace deal were put at risk

WASHINGTON: The top Democrat in the US Congress warned Wednesday that lawmakers would block a trade pact with Britain if its exit from the EU undermines Northern Ireland’s peace accord.
President Donald Trump and senior advisers to Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson have spoken recently of fast-tracking a bilateral trade deal once Brexit is complete.
But any such agreement would need the green light from Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — Trump’s political nemesis on Capitol Hill — made clear she would not play ball if the Irish peace deal were put at risk.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and is thus set to leave the European Union while the neighboring Republic of Ireland is a separate EU member state.
Reimposing controls along their shared border if Britain leaves without a deal — a so-called “hard Brexit” — would put the 1998 peace deal in jeopardy.
“Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.”
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought the decades-old Northern Ireland conflict to an end. But how to handle Northern Ireland has emerged as a core issue for Brexit negotiators.
Critics have warned that Brexit might require reimposing a hard border on the island, a move that would essentially upend the agreement that has kept peace in Northern Ireland for the past two decades.
Goods and people freely cross the border, as both countries are currently members of the EU, and the withdrawal agreement negotiated last year between London and Brussels contains a “backstop” plan to maintain this situation whatever happens with Brexit.
However, British MPs have rejected it three times and Johnson warns the backstop must go or Britain will leave the EU on October 31 without any deal.
Pelosi, a master legislator, strongly signaled that Republicans would join her Democrats in opposing a trade pact if Brexit undermines the peace deal.
“The peace of the Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be fiercely defended on a bicameral and bipartisan basis in the United States Congress,” she said.
The Republican co-chair of the Friends of Ireland group in the US Congress, Pete King, reportedly said jeopardizing the open border was a “needless provocation” over which his party would have no hesitation defying Trump.
Those in Congress with a strong belief in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement “would certainly be willing to go against the president,” King told The Guardian.
After his first phone call with the new British leader late last month, Trump said talks on a “very substantial” post-Brexit trade deal were already underway.
Last week Johnson dispatched top aides including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Washington in a bid to fast-track the negotiations.
And on Monday US National Security Adviser John Bolton, a hawkish Trump aide, said Washington wanted to “move very quickly” on the trade pact after Britain exits the EU.
House Democrat Brendan Boyle called Bolton’s trade talk “nonsensical” and said the comments should not be taken seriously. Boyle added on Twitter that he “strongly” supports Pelosi’s position.
Any US trade deal needs final approval from the US Congress, where political power is split: Pelosi’s Democrats control the House of Representatives, while the Senate is led by Republicans.
Dozens of US lawmakers claim Irish ancestry, and the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress has long advocated for peace and justice in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
George Mitchell, a former US Senate majority leader with Irish roots, was president Bill Clinton’s envoy to Northern Ireland and led the all-party peace negotiations in the 1990s.


US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

Updated 07 December 2019

US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

  • The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence
  • Permanent cease-fire would be the eventual goal, said a US statement

KABUL: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.
The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.
The meetings being held in the Middle eastern State of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Ghani calling him a US puppet.
Ghani leads the Afghan government with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States after the presidential elections in 2014 were so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined.
To head off a conflict Washington stepped in and forced the two leading candidates __ Ghani and Abdullah __ to share power in a so-called Unity Government that has been largely paralyzed because of the relentless bickering between the two leaders.
The Afghan government is now embroiled in a fresh elections standoff. Presidential polls on Sept. 28 again ended in accusations of misconduct and corruption, with no results yet announced.
Repeat leading contender Abdullah has challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing his opponent Ghani of trying to manipulate the tally.
Meanwhile, Khalilzad’s return to his peace mission followed Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan in which he said talks with the Taliban were back on.
While Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US airstrikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.
The insurgents have continued to carry put near daily strikes against military outposts throughout the country. They now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.
Trump has expressed frustration with America’s longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan’s own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticized for its relentless corruption.