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Obama calls Northern Ireland progress a model for peace

Exhorts young in words that bring to mind Syria

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and President Obama walked near a lake after the president arrived Monday at the G-8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and President Obama walked near a lake after the president arrived Monday at the G-8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — President 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’s ever been.’’

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‘‘The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders, but the fate of peace is up to each of us,’’ Obama said Monday 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 on Monday morning after an overnight flight from Washington.

After his speech to about 1,800 students and adults, he flew to a lakeside golf resort near Enniskillen, passing over a sweeping patchwork of farms as he prepared to meet with other leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations on Syria, trade, and counterterrorism.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain greeted the leaders one-by-one in front of the picturesque lake where the summit was being held and posed for media cameras before they headed into their first closed session, on the global economy.

Earlier, Obama and European Union leaders emerged from a group round-table meeting to announce that they were opening negotiations next month in Washington toward a broad trade deal designed to slash tariffs, boost exports, and fuel badly needed economic growth.

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Obama said there would be sensitivities and politics to overcome by parties on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but he is hopeful they can ‘‘stay focused on the big picture’’ of the economic and strategic importance of the agreement.

Significant progress has been made in the 15 years since the US-brokered Good Friday Accords.

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.

Obama cited that playground in his speech, lauding an activist whose work led to the opening of a pedestrian gate in the fence.

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 in Belfast.

‘‘Whenever your peace is attacked, you will have to choose whether to respond with the same bravery that you’ve summoned so far or whether you succumb to the worst instincts, those impulses that kept this great land divided for too long. You’ll have to choose whether to keep going forward, not backward,’’ 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. Cameron formally backed the goal Friday, and Obama followed with his own endorsement Monday.

Obama specifically endorsed an end to segregated housing and schools, calling it an essential element of lasting peace.

In Enniskillen, Obama and Cameron rolled up their sleeves at one of Northern Ireland’s first integrated schools, talking hunger and poverty with children studying the G-8.

Though Obama did not specifically mention Syria, his remarks on Northern Ireland recalled the fierce conflict there that has so far resulted in 93,000 deaths. For those looking for a way out of conflict, Obama said Northern Ireland is ‘‘proof of what is possible.’’

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