Biden Meets Italy’s Meloni as Both Fight Domestic Headwinds on Ukraine

Biden Meets Italy’s Meloni as Both Fight Domestic Headwinds on Ukraine

White House — U.S. President Joe Biden is hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House Friday, amid challenges in maintaining support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

The meeting, their second in-person encounter in seven months, will focus primarily on Italy’s G7 presidency where Meloni is set to lead on an agenda aligned with Biden’s: defending the international system and multilateralism. For both leaders, support for Ukraine has been the core of that effort.

Despite initial concerns from Biden and Western allies when Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy Party came into power in October 2022, the prime minister has proved her country’s commitment to supporting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s war efforts.

Last week Meloni visited Kyiv and chaired the first G7 leaders’ videoconference under the Italian presidency, from the Ukrainian capital. She has signed a deal to provide Kyiv with military and technical assistance through the end of the year.

Meloni was also instrumental in persuading Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fellow far-right leader, to drop his opposition to a $54 billion European Union package for Ukraine during an emergency summit in early February.

However, Biden and Meloni both face domestic headwinds on Ukraine. Biden is dealing with recalcitrant Republicans in the House of Representatives who have stalled the passage of a Senate-approved foreign aid package containing $60 billion for Ukraine, along with $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan.

In Italy, where military aid to Kyiv is unpopular with voters, there are contrasting views within Meloni’s coalition on the war in Ukraine and on Rome’s relationship with Moscow, with some members pushing for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict sooner rather than later.

Biden and Meloni are aware that the longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the more difficult it will be to resist pressure from domestic groups and voters who want the war to be over. However, both are also aware that a Russian victory in Ukraine likely means the end of the European security system as we know it, said Dario Cristiani, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“Italy will work — in the G7 context — to promote greater cohesion in boosting military and financial support, while also trying to find ways to reinforce defense production in Europe and the transatlantic space, to support Ukraine in their vital fight against Russian imperial war of aggression,” he told VOA.

The two leaders will also discuss negotiations for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Rome, along with some other U.S. allies, abstained on a December United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

However, in January, Italian lawmakers joined their European Union colleagues in adopting a nonbinding, symbolic resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire, on the condition that the Palestinian militant group be dismantled and that all hostages it holds be released.

Biden and Meloni find alignment on other issues, including maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific and coordinating on the challenges and opportunities posed by China. In December, Meloni’s government ended Italy’s participation in Beijing’s Belt and Road trade and investment initiative that had been a concern for Washington.

The two governments are also focused on finding a framework on artificial intelligence and on international migration. Meloni, who a few years ago called for a naval blockade to prevent “an invasion” of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe, has changed her approach to the issue by hosting a January summit in Rome to bolster international investment in Africa in hopes of slowing migration from the continent, as a key theme of her G7 presidency.

Biden and Meloni are scheduled to meet again in June in Fasano, Italy, where the prime minister will host G7 leaders for their annual summit.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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