President Joe Biden on Thursday hosted Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House, months after expressing skepticism as her far-right government took hold.
But the initial wariness toward Meloni – fueled by fierce rhetoric related to migration, the European Union and gay rights – appears to have subsided as the prime minister shifts toward the center. The White House has viewed the prime minister as a strong partner in the effort to aid Ukraine. Meloni has also signaled a willingness to pull Italy out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Biden welcomed Meloni during an Oval Office meeting, thanking her for thherat country’s support for Ukraine.
“As NATO allies, the transatlantic partnership is the cornerstone of our shared security, and Italian troops are playing a critical role in Europe with the Mediterranean and beyond,” he told Meloni. “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, it’s not just a war, Russia is committing atrocities … and I thank the Italian people, I want to thank them for supporting you in supporting Ukraine – it makes a big difference.”
US officials have been somewhat surprised by the turnabout, and suggest privately the changes amount to the moderating force of being in power, where the responsibilities of governing supplant the invective of campaigning.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Biden and Meloni have a “good, productive relationship” and lauded the prime minister as a “great partner” on Ukraine.
But just last fall, the US president openly mused about what Meloni’s far-right government could mean for democracy.
In a September fundraiser, the president spoke of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s belief that “democracies can’t be sustained in the 21st century,” and quickly added, “You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election.”
At another fundraiser a few weeks later, the president said, “One thing that Putin decided – counted on was us splitting NATO. Not a joke. Splitting NATO. And look what’s happening. Look what’s happening in the eastern front of NATO. Look what Poland is doing now. Look what’s happening. And Poland is sticking there. But how about Hungary? What’s happening? Look what’s happened recently in Spain and Italy.”
White House officials have intently monitored elections in Europe over the last two years for signs of an emerging far-right sentiment. There were sighs of relief when French President Emmanuel Macron beat back the far-right Marine Le Pen for another term. And in Spain this weekend, a right-wing party did not fare as well as many had expected, leading to questions about the viability of right-wing politics in Europe.
Meloni had been a lodestar for right-wing nationalism. She spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference and worked to align herself with then-President Donald Trump. She inveighed against migration into Italy and was deeply skeptical of the European Union.
Now, however, she has emerged as a leader on trying to develop solutions to the migration issue. And she has spoken about the need to strengthen NATO amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
When Biden and Meloni meet in the Oval Office Thursday afternoon, they will discuss shared challenges and the ongoing war, as well as developments in North Africa, coordination on China, and Italy’s upcoming G7 presidency. Biden and Meloni have met on several occasions at international summits in the last year.
“They get along quite well, particularly on issues of foreign policy,” Kirby added.
But the two leaders do find themselves at odds on some domestic issues, including LGBTQ rights. Meloni’s government has ordered local authorities to stop registering both parents in same-sex couples on birth certificates.
Kirby said the president is focused on asserting human rights around the world, but “the Italian people get to decide who their government is. It’s a democracy, and the president respects that.”