US President Joe Biden hosts Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, celebrating a staunch NATO ally, while setting aside any qualms about her far-right government.
The White House played down controversies over Meloni’s domestic agenda, instead focusing on the roles Italy plays as a key member of the G7 and NATO, especially when it comes to the Western push to support Ukraine’s war effort.
Biden and Meloni have a “good, productive relationship” and Biden has “been looking forward to this visit quite a bit,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.
Kirby noted Italy’s place in the European Union and other Western groups, as well as strong US ties to the country through an estimated 18 million Italian-Americans. Italy will take over the rotating presidency of the G7 next year.
Biden and Meloni plan to discuss efforts to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, the global climate crisis, migration, and also the more prickly subject of China.
“As we deal with important global challenges, including Russia’s war against Ukraine and the climate crisis, the US-Italy partnership and Italy’s strong voice within the NATO alliance certainly remain important,” Kirby said.
On China, European countries and Washington broadly agree that the time has come to reduce dangerous dependency on Beijing — “de-risking,” as the new policy is dubbed. However, there is less agreement on details of how far to go and how much economic risk can be tolerated.
Kirby said Biden and Meloni would discuss “closer transatlantic coordination regarding the People’s Republic of China.”
Meloni in particular has come under pressure to pull Italy out of China’s Belt and Road initiative — a trillion-dollar infrastructure investment scheme that Beijing has used to secure influence around the world, mostly in countries with economic difficulties.
Kirby would not confirm that this would come up, saying only “they certainly will talk about shared concerns and perspectives and challenges with respect” to China.
Another delicate point is Meloni’s stature as leader of one of Europe’s most successful far-right movements — and in a country with a painful history of fascism.
However, US officials see the Italian prime minister as having moderated since coming to power and she has surprised many with her decisive posture on supporting Ukraine against Russia, where Vladimir Putin was close friends with the late, long-serving Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Asked about Biden’s view of the far-right in Italy, Kirby said “the Italian people get to decide who their government is — it’s a democracy. The president respects that.”
On a more concrete level, the US link to Italy is ensured through a major military presence, comprising some 30,000 Americans — whether service members or their families — in five bases.