Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited Washington on Thursday to meet with US President Joe Biden. This trip marks her first visit to the United States since becoming head of state.
Despite the initial apprehension from US politicians over Meloni's political ideology both leaders reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and defended their nation's economic interests.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden thanked far-right Premier Giorgia Meloni for Italy's steady backing of Ukraine, offering a warm welcome to the White House to a leader that his administration saw with some trepidation when she rose to power last year as the head of Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II.
“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 told Meloni at the start of their Oval Office meeting.
“And I thank the Italian people. I want to thank them for supporting you and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference," he said.
The warm reception comes after initial trepidation in the Biden administration about Meloni, who rose to power last year as the head of Italy’s most far-right government since the end of World War II.
Biden administration concerns about her ideology have been eased by her support for Ukraine and her seeming openness to pull back from Italy's participation in China's infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative. Her visit comes as Italy prepares to take up the presidency next year of the Group of Seven industrialised nations.
Meloni, who was making her first White House visit as premier, said relations between the U.S. and Italy should remain strong “regardless of the political colours" of who is in power in the two countries.
She also underscored that with their response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, “Western nations have shown that they can rely on 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 was focused on Ukraine and China as well as the stream of migration from North Africa to Europe's southern shores.
More than 1,900 migrants have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean so far this year, bringing the total of dead and missing since 2014 to 27,675, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Biden administration viewed Meloni’s predecessor, the economist and former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, as an intellectual force and one of its strongest allies in Europe.
“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 said.
Soon after Meloni's victory last September, Biden warned about the rise of hard-right populism in Europe and in the United States.
Meloni became Italy’s first far-right leader to hold the premiership in Italy’s post-World War II republic after the Brothers of Italy party she co-founded more than a decade ago emerged as the largest vote-getter in the September 2022 elections.
The party has roots in a party founded by nostalgists for fascism following the demise of dictator Benito Mussolini’s regime.
However, Meloni brushes off any insinuation that she is nostalgic for Mussolini, writing in her autobiography, “I don’t hold the cult of fascism.”
Since coming to power, Meloni has faced criticism for her government's direction that city halls stop automatically registering both parents in same-sex couples but instead limit recognition of parental rights only to the biological parent.
When Meloni ran for the premiership, she called for a naval blockade of northern Africa to thwart smugglers’ boats overcrowded with migrants determined to reach Europe’s southern shores. But once in office, she quickly dropped talk of any blockade.
Ahead of Meloni's visit, the White House sought to stress the US and Italy's close cooperation on Ukraine.
Kirby noted that Meloni has been one of the European Union’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine's sovereignty, and Italy has hosted some 170,000 Ukrainians who have fled the war. Meloni has also been a champion of a stronger NATO and views the trans-Atlantic alliance as the linchpin of traditionally strong US-Italian relations.
“From a foreign policy lens, the Biden administration sees this is better than what they could have possibly expected or hoped for,” said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.