Belfast: President Barack Obama declared peace in Northern Ireland a "blueprint" for those living amid conflict around the world, while acknowledging that the calm between Catholics and Protestants will face further tests.
Summoning young people to take responsibility for their country`s future, Obama warned there is "more to lose now than there has ever been."
"The terms of peace may be negotiated by leaders, but the fate of peace is up to you," Obama said today during remarks at Belfast`s Waterfront Hall. The glass-fronted building would never have been built during the city`s long era of car bombs.
Obama arrived in Northern Ireland today morning after an overnight flight from Washington. Following his remarks in Belfast, he was bound for a lakeside golf resort in Enneskillen for meetings with other leaders of the Group of 8 industrial nations on Syria, trade and counterterrorism.
Later today, Obama was meeting one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Cameron selected Enniskillen as the site of this year`s meeting as a way to highlight Northern Ireland`s ability to leave behind a four-decade conflict that claimed 3,700 lives.
Significant progress has been made in the 15 years since the US-brokered Good Friday Accords, including a Catholic-Protestant government and the disarmament of the IRA and outlawed Protestant groups responsible for most of the 3,700 death toll.
But tearing down Belfast`s nearly 100 "peace lines" barricades of brick, steel and barbed wire that divide neighborhoods, roads and even one Belfast playground is still seen by many as too dangerous.
Acknowledging the reality of a sometimes-fragile peace, Obama recalled the Omagh bombings that killed 29 people and injured hundreds more. It was the deadliest attack of the entire conflict and occurred after the Good Friday deal.
Peace will be tested again, Obama said. "Whenever your peace is attacked, you will have to choose whether to respond with the same bravery you`ve summoned so far. You will have to choose whether to keep going," he said.
Last month, the Catholic and Protestant leaders of Northern Ireland`s unity government announced a bold but detail-free plan to dismantle all peace lines by 2023. British Prime Minister David Cameron formally backed the goal Friday, and Obama followed with his own endorsement today.
The president specifically endorsed an end to segregated housing and schools, calling it an essential element of lasting peace. "If towns remain divided, if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can`t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that too encourages division and discourages cooperation," Obama said.