US: Biden thanks Italy's Meloni for Ukraine, China support

In their joint statement after their talks, the two leaders again committed to maintain support for Ukraine for "as long as it takes"

Biden and Meloni may differ markedly on some issues, but their foreign policies have been quite closely aligned (photo: Yuri Gripas/ABACAPRESS/IMAGO)
Biden and Meloni may differ markedly on some issues, but their foreign policies have been quite closely aligned (photo: Yuri Gripas/ABACAPRESS/IMAGO)


US President Joe Biden thanked Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Italians for their "very strong support" of Ukraine. 

The right-wing Meloni's first trip to the White House as premier brought together two G7 leaders with quite radically differing domestic policies who have nevertheless found common ground on foreign policy matters since her inauguration last October. 

Italy, which will take up the rotating G7 presidency at the start of next year, has both taken a stern line on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has indicated Rome might halt its involvement in China's global infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative. 

Biden: Italian support for Ukraine 'makes a big difference'

"Italy and the United States are also standing strong with Ukraine, and I compliment you on your very strong support in defending against Russian atrocities, and that's what they are," Biden said during a small portion of the meeting that was open to reporters.

"And I thank the Italian people. I want to thank them for supporting you and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference," he said. 

In their joint statement after their talks, the two leaders again committed to maintain support for Ukraine for "as long as it takes." 

They also made reference to a string of other foreign policy issues, such as the "vital importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," Italy's upcoming G7 presidency, stability in the Indo-Pacific, the creation of a "new space dialogue" and more cyber-security cooperation, as well as stronger "bilateral and multilateral consultations on the opportunities and challenges posed by China." 

Meloni: Strong ties 'regardless of political colors'

Meloni said that US-Italian relations should remain strong "regardless of the political colors" of the countries' leaders at any given time. She said that in their response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, "Western nations have shown that they can rely on each other." 

Meloni also visited the Capitol on Thursday for talks with other leading US politicians such as the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

McCarthy made reference to his maternal grandfather's migration from Italy to the US just over a century ago and said "the bond between these two countries is very strong." 

Meloni said that she was glad to exchange views on many international issues with Congressional members from both US parties "because it gives me a complete picture of the foreign policy landscape from representatives elected by the American people." 

Domestic disagreements but common ground abroad

Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy party has roots in a party that was nostalgic for fascism following the fall of Benito Mussolini, but the prime minister herself wrote in her autobiography, "I don't hold the cult of fascism." 

Her positions on issues like migrants' rights and same-sex parents seem to stand in stark contrast to those of Biden's Democrats.

Meloni said on Wednesday that "no one asked me about LGBT rights" during her various talks in the Capitol. 

Her right-wing posture has also come with a more skeptical stance than is sometimes typical in Italy towards both Russia and China. 

"On issues of foreign policy, there's been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we're taking on with Italy," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had noted before Meloni's talks with Biden. 

Italy's part in Belt and Road discussed

Italy became the first and so far only G7 country to sign up to assist in China's international infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative, to Washington's displeasure, in 2019. 

Although Meloni is yet to make any decision, she has indicated a willingness to reconsider Italy's involvement when the current terms expire in March 2024.

"I discussed Belt and Road deal with Biden but the US approach is not to dictate our China policy," she said after Thursday's talks. 

She described the US as Italy's "most important trade partner outside the EU," while Biden alluded to a trade volume of some $100 billion (€91 billion) last year and said, "in my mind, there's no reason why that can't increase." 

Irregular migration and Mediterranean stability

Biden and Meloni's joint statement also noted "the vital importance of shared efforts to promote stability and prosperity in the wider Mediterranean region, including by addressing the root causes of instability, terrorism and irregular migration flows."

Italy declared a state of emergency over irregular migration earlier this year as numbers rise, driven by inflation, unusually hot weather and other factors.

The two countries also affirmed their support for Tunisians "as Tunisia endures continued economic and political challenges" and spoke of a "shared desire for a prosperous, secure and democratic Tunisia." 

Tunisia has seen widespread protests this week on the second anniversary of President Kais Saied grabbing sweeping powers and suspending parliament in what his opponents call a "coup."

Tunisia has a large Italian community and vice versa, with ties dating back to the colonial era. 

It's also facing longstanding economic challenges exacerbated by the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and the effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Tunisia's Interior Ministry also said on Wednesday that 901 bodies, mostly of migrants bound for Europe or quite possibly Italy, had been recovered from its waters so far this year. 

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