PRESIDENT George W. Bush has invited First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness back to the White House before he leaves office next year.The outgoing president made the unexpected invitation to the Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leaders during his final visit to Northern Ireland on Monday.Bush's four hours in the North had been attacked by some critics as little more than a "glorified fuel stop" en-route from Europe to Washington. More than 200 protestors held an anti-war demonstration outside Belfast City Hall in opposition to the war in Iraq.There was loud applause at one point during the protest when the Union Jack flag flying outside City Hall was replaced by protesters with an Iraqi national flag.However, a heavy security presence meant that the president and First Lady Laura Bush never came into contact with protesters at any time.That security had been stepped up after two police officers were injured in a dissident Republican landmine attack on the border last weekend.The presidential motorcade avoided a protest at the entrance to the Stormont estate by using an alternative entrance. The estate, which is home to the Stormont Assembly, had been closed to the public since Saturday with a no-fly zone imposed overhead.Assembly business had also been cancelled to accommodate the presidential visit.Most of the president's four hours were taken up with talks with Northern Ireland political leaders at Stormont Castle.Speaking after a meeting with Robinson and McGuinness, Bush said,"I'm excited by the progress that is being made towards peace and reconciliation. The world is impressed by the efforts being made towards peace and reconciliation and that obviously takes a commitment at leadership."Bush revealed that his talks had included a commitment to ongoing support for the power sharing institutions."We talked about a lot of issues," he said. "We talked about the devolution of policing and justice and we talked about the successful investment conference that took place here."I want to thank my fellow citizens for coming and I want to thank those around the world who are paying attention to Northern Ireland."The truth of the matter is that people have come here, looked at the government, looked at the situation, gotten to know the people and realized this is a good place to invest."Ultimately investment is going to help Northern Ireland realize its full potential."Bush revealed that his talks had also included discussions about the ongoing involvement of Northern Ireland leaders in peace talks with Iraqi politicians."I was able to thank the leaders for their work in helping others reconcile their differences," he said."The interesting thing about the progress being made here in Northern Ireland is that it has attracted the attention of societies around the world that wonder whether reconciliation is possible for them."Martin was telling me about his talks with some of the Iraqi leaders, about sharing his stories, about how folks can reconcile and Northern Ireland is a success story."Obviously there is more work to be done, but the progress made to date has been unimaginable from 10 years ago."Paying tribute to Bush's commitment to Northern Ireland during his years in office, Robinson said, "I am delighted that President Bush of his own choice has recognized that Belfast is one of the major cities of Europe and has included it in this tour."It is a personal commitment that the president has shown towards Northern Ireland and we are really grateful, not just for him coming, but for the work that has been done by the president and his ambassadors over the previous years and particularly the work that has been done most recently for the investment conference."Expressing optimism that the long standing support provided by successive American governments would help to guarantee a brighter future for Northern Ireland, McGuinness said, "We are very hopeful in the time ahead, in fact I think we are confident, that much needed jobs will flow from that."I think that providing good jobs, a decent standard of living and facing up to the economic difficulties that our people have to endure is a very important part of the work load that Peter and I, as first and deputy first minister, need to take forward in the time ahead."Bush also exchanged personal gifts with retired First Minister Ian Paisley during a private meeting at Stormont. Other talks included discussions with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.Later the president and Mrs. Bush visited Loughview Integrated Primary School, where Catholic and Protestant children are educated together.Bush unexpectedly took time out to join in an impromptu game of basketball, but admitted defeat after failing to score from four attempts at scoring.The game was part of an ongoing project organized by Peaceplayers Inter-national, who have worked with more than 100 schools in Northern Ireland since it was set up six years ago.Coordinator Kelly Lyons, originally from Rhode Island, admitted to having been thrilled to have met the president."The kids were extremely excited to meet Mr. Bush," she said."It was a thrill for me also. "I came over here from the States two years ago and to meet the president here in Northern Ireland is really just surreal."The president was amused to discover that one of the school's environmental projects had been named the "Mighty Bush."Mrs. Bush won widespread applause when she promised that a pot plant, presented to her by the schoolchildren, would be planted in the White House before the Bushes leave office next year.Paying tribute to America's support for the efforts to promote integrated education in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles, veteran Shankill Road community worker Baroness May Blood said, "The United States has been a long-standing supporter of integrated education and we have been immensely grateful for their endorsement."Whilst integration in schools in America to end racial segregation came about through legislation, in Northern Ireland it has been through the efforts of parents themselves, not the government."I think that has impressed them (the Bushes). Here it has been a community-driven initiative as opposed to a political one."Later the Bushes left Northern Ireland on Air Force One en route to Washington.It is unclear when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will take up President Bush' White House invitation.

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