President Joe Biden thanked the Prime Minister this Thursday Giorgia Meloni for the firm Italian support for Ukraine and he gave a warm welcome to the White House to a leader his administration viewed with some trepidation when she came to power last year as head of Italy’s first far-right government since the end of World War Two.
The Biden administration’s concerns about his ideology have been eased by his support for Ukraine and his apparent openness to withdrawing from Italy’s participation in China’s infrastructure construction Belt and Road Initiative. His visit came as Italy prepares to assume the presidency next year from group of seven industrialized countries.
“Italy and the United States also stand strong on Ukraine, and I congratulate them on their great support in defending against Russian atrocities, and that is what they are,” Biden told Meloni at the start of their meeting in the Oval Office. “Me too I thank the Italian people. I want to thank you for supporting them and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference”.
Meloni, who was making her first visit to the White House as prime minister, said that US-Italy relations should remain strong “regardless of political colours” who is in power in the two countries. He also stressed that with their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “Western nations have shown that they can trust each other.”
“Those who live in peace should be the first supporters of the Ukrainian cause,” Meloni said.
White House officials said the leaders’ agenda focused on Ukraine and China, as well as in the migratory flow from North Africa to the southern shores of Europe. More than 1,900 migrants have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean so far this year, bringing the total number of dead and missing since 2014 to 27,675, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Biden administration saw Meloni’s predecessor, the economist and former head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi, as an intellectual force and one of its strongest allies in Europe. Shortly after Meloni’s victory in September, Biden warned of the rise of far-right populism in Europe and the United States.
“You just saw what happened in Italy in that election,” Biden said in a speech to the Democratic Governors Association after Meloni’s victory. “You are seeing what is happening around the world. And the reason I bother saying that is that we can’t be optimistic about what’s going on here either.”
Meloni became Italy’s first far-right leader to serve as prime minister in the post-World War II Italian republic after the party brothers from italy that he co-founded more than a decade ago to emerge as the top vote-getter in the September 2022 elections.
But before the visit, the White House played down Biden’s initial skepticism about Meloni.
“On foreign policy issues, there have been many overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we are taking with Italy,” said the White House National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby. “Italy is a NATO ally and they are a very competent NATO ally and they have been a tremendous supporter of Ukraine”.
Before their meeting at the White House, Meloni went to the US Capitol to meet with the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader in the senate Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as with other legislators.
In comments to reporters after meeting McCarthy, Meloni said it remained critical for the West to stand together to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty.
“Because without a world based on international law, we would live in a world of chaos”, Meloni said. “That is not the world we want to live in. We want to live in a world where we can respect sovereignty and freedom.”
His Brothers of Italy party, named after the opening words of Italy’s national anthem, has roots in a party founded by those nostalgic for fascism after the fall of the regime of dictator Benito Mussolini. But Meloni dismisses any suggestion that she is nostalgic for Mussolini, writing in her autobiography: “I don’t follow the cult of fascism.”
Since taking office, Meloni has faced criticism over his government’s leadership that municipalities stop automatically registering both parents in same-sex couples and limit the recognition of parental authority only to the biological father of the child.
When Meloni was running for prime minister, he called for a naval blockade of North Africa to thwart smuggler ships packed with migrants determined to reach southern European shores. But once in office, he quickly stopped talking about any blockades.
On the eve of Meloni’s visit, the White House tried to emphasize the close cooperation of the United States and Italy in Ukraine.
But White House officials point out that Meloni has been one of the most vocal defenders of Ukraine’s sovereignty in the European Union and Italy has hosted some 170,000 Ukrainians. who have fled the war. Meloni has also been a champion of a stronger NATO and sees the transatlantic alliance as the lynchpin of traditionally strong US-Italy relations.
“From a foreign policy standpoint, the Biden administration sees this as better than it could possibly have hoped for,” said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Meloni has also expressed his skepticism about Italy’s ties to China through the Belt and Road Initiative. In 2019, Italy became the first and only G7 nation to join China’s ambitious infrastructure-building effort, despite US objections.
The project was launched by Beijing in 2013 by President Xi Jinping to link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure. The ambition of the project has expanded to Africa, Oceania and Latin America, significantly expanding China’s economic and political influence. Italy must renew or abandon the agreement early next year.
(With information from AP)
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