Yesterday, President Obama offered Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti a very warm benvenuto to the White House. The President and Prime Minister Monti had spoken on the phone last November just after the Prime Minister took office, at a very tough time for Italy, but this was the first time they were able to meet in person here in Washington. It was an opportunity for the President to reaffirm the friendship between our two nations and return some of the wonderful hospitably that the Italian people showed to him on his visit to Rome and L’Aquila in 2009. Indeed, that Italian hospitality has been known to generations of Americans, and the President noted how grateful we are for the extraordinary welcome that Italians have given to thousands of our service members and their families in Italy over the decades.
During their meeting, the Prime Minister updated the President on the courageous and essential economic reforms that he and his team are pursuing. In just a few months in office, the Monti administration has made very impressive progress. As the President said in his remarks after the meeting, because of the Prime Minister’s stewardship, experience, and knowledge, he has not only boosted confidence within Italy, he’s been able to generate confidence throughout Europe, and in the marketplace.
The two leaders also talked about the need to stabilize the situation in the Eurozone writ large. Something that they both agree on is the need for a stronger European “firewall”, which will allow for a more stable path for repayment of debt. They also agreed on the need for a strategy to promote more rapid growth, which is important not only to Europe, but to the entire global economy.
During their meeting, President Obama stressed that Italian leadership is a force for good around the globe, from the Balkans to Lebanon and far beyond. Our troops stand shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan, as they have been doing in the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Italy’s contributions were absolutely vital in the mission to protect the Libyan people. And today the Monti Administration is making strength of our transatlantic Alliance a continuing priority, despite the tough economic times. The two leaders also discussed the extraordinary changes that continue to unfold across the Middle East and North Africa. The President thanked the Prime Minister for Italy’s strong support for democratic transitions in those regions, and they agreed to continue to coordinate closely in bringing about an end to the violence in Syria and the dawning of a new day for its people.
Italy is a great friend and ally of the United States. As the President said yesterday, “given the extraordinary talents and gifts of the Italian people…there’s no reason why the future for Italy should not be extraordinary bright.” What was clear in the Oval Office today as the two leaders sat side by side is that as Italy walks the difficult path back to full prosperity, the Italian people can count on America’s steadfast support as a close ally and enduring friend.
Liz Sherwood-Randall is Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for European Affairs.