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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) poses with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir(reuters_tickers)
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker assured Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Thursday that his negotiators would push to protect Ireland's interests around Northern Ireland during Brexit talks with London.
Kenny met European Commission President Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, where he stressed Dublin's concerns about keeping its border with the British province "as open as possible" once it becomes the EU's only land frontier with Britain - in part to avoid risking a return to sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
Juncker told a joint news conference: "We don't want to have hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic."
Adding that Barnier would try to avoid damaging the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, he said: "We want land borders being as open as possible."
Kenny noted that until British Prime Minister Theresa May launches the Brexit process by detailing Britain's demands, something she aims to do next month, Ireland and its EU allies could not know where border negotiations would start. He said he believed the solution would be "political" not "technological".
He reiterated Dublin's call for the Brexit treaty between the EU and Britain to spell out that Northern Ireland would join the European Union again immediately if it chooses in a referendum to unite with Ireland under the provisions of the 1998 peace agreement. That, he said, would follow the example of the EU's absorption of East Germany on reunification in 1990.
"The language of what’s contained in the Good Friday Agreement will also be contained in the negotiation outcome," Kenny said. "We want that language inserted into the negotiated treaty or negotiated outcome, whenever that might occur."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Alison Williams)