United States President Joe Biden praised Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for her support of Ukraine as the White House downplayed differences over her hard-right government’s stances on China, immigration, abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Biden said the US and Italy were “standing strong” with Ukraine and Meloni’s government had offered “very strong support” opposing Russian atrocities during a meeting with the Italian leader on Thursday.
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“And I thank the Italian people,” Biden told Meloni at the start of their talks at the Oval Office. “I want to thank them for supporting you and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference.”
Meloni, whose government has been cast by critics as Italy’s first far-right administration since World War II, said she was “proud” of Italy’s support for Ukraine.
“We know who our friends are in times that are tough, and I think that Western nations have shown that they can rely on each other much [more] than some have believed,” she said.
She said the two leaders discussed Italy’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but Washington’s approach was not to dictate
Biden’s warm welcome of the Italian leader marked a contrast with previous remarks expressing concerns about the implications of Meloni’s election last year for democracy and international alliances, such as NATO.
Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party has historical links to Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement, has criticised mass immigration, limited same-sex parental rights and praised far-right political parties in Poland and Spain.
Meloni has dismissed the suggestion her party is fascist and has surprised some observers by staking out more moderate positions on hot-button issues, including immigration, than critics feared.
On Thursday, Meloni told reporters that she aligned more closely with Republicans but that should be no obstacle to having a “great relationship” with Biden.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby downplayed controversy over Meloni’s politics.
“The Italian people get to decide who their government is – it’s a democracy,” Kirby said. “The president respects that.”
Kirby declined to be drawn on differences over China, saying only that the two leaders discussed “shared concerns and perspectives and challenges” related to the country.
In a joint statement after their meeting, the two leaders pledged to continue their support for Ukraine and strengthen dialogue on the “opportunities and challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China.”
Italy, in 2019, became the first G7 country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar infrastructure drive aimed at creating a new Silk Road bridging Asia and Europe.
Meloni is considering Italy’s continuing participation in the initiative, which automatically renews next year if neither side opts out, and has suggested that Rome can still enjoy good relations with China outside of the deal.