Remarks by Vice President Biden and Italian President Napolitano to the Press in Rome
6:08 P.M. CEST
PRESIDENT NAPOLITANO: (As translated.) Good afternoon. On the occasion of tomorrow’s celebration here in Rome for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, we have with us the Vice President of the United States of America, Senator Biden.
We have just had a very fruitful meeting, and, of course, we’ll be meeting again tomorrow morning at our celebration and at the events that will take place here at the Quirinale Palace tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening.
I must say that we had a very simple talk. In fact, this is one of the many steps of what I would define as a continued talk; in other words, an open-ended dialogue, a relationship between Italy and the United States. And I must say that we’ve had many opportunities, and I’ve also had the opportunity to meet at the highest level the representatives of this great country, of this great people. And I must say that if there was one country that we could not have not invited for our celebrations that would definitely have been the United States of America because America is so close, is so tied to the history of Italians -- of Italy’s unification. And it is also very close to the rebirth of Italy after fascism. And there’s always been a very strong tie of friendship, of cooperation and alliance with the United States of America.
And as I said, it wouldn’t have been possible at all; it would have been unthinkable to hold our celebrations here in Italy without the participation of the United States. And, in fact, we were told that we would have the Vice President of the United States, a very high-level representative -- Vice President Biden.
Now, with regard to our talk, I would say that we focused on the recent developments, international developments. And, of course, we know what has happened with uprisings in North Africa, in the Middle East. This is a very novel situation, very disrupting situation. And of course, we also talked about the attack by Colonel Qaddafi against his own people. And with that attack, he was trying, of course, to thwart the attempt to establish freedom and autonomy in that country, in Cyrenaica, in such a very vital and vibrant part of Libya itself.
And again, we were working side by side with the United States of America, and Italians were trying to make their contribution even to the military operation that had been authorized by the United Nations Security Council so as to make sure that the freedom movement could continue to operate.
This, of course, is an important part of this general process of reawakening in the Arab world. I must say that we share many assessments and opinions, and once again, I wish to express my gratitude to Vice President Biden for being here today, as well as tomorrow. Thank you.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. President, thank you very much. It’s a genuine honor to be here. I and President Obama -- I'm delighted that President Obama spent last week in Europe and meeting with you in Warsaw, because that meant I could come to Italy. He was unable to stay out of the country much longer, and I am flattered that I am able to be here.
And as President Obama said in his proclamation marking the anniversary of the unification, he said, “We join with Italians everywhere to honor the courage, sacrifice and vision of the patriots who gave birth to the Italian nation.”
Folks, it has been -- we’ve had a great meeting. And our ambassador presented the President with a replica of a letter written by General Garibaldi to Abraham Lincoln in 1861, when at the beginning of our Civil War and the beginning of your unification, where he talked about the relationship -- Garibaldi did -- between our nations. And under the leadership of your Prime Minister Berlusconi and the President, Italy has been an incredibly important partner, not only in the past -- because I’m not here to talk about the past -- I’m here to celebrate the unification, but to talk about the future. Both in NATO, and in the G8, and the G20, Italy has been a key coalition ally. From the beginning in the crisis of Libya, Italy has stood with the United States and others in strong support of the U.N. Resolution 1970 and 73.
As I said to the President, Italy has deeper roots and a -- I think a greater knowledge of the circumstances in Libya than probably any other country in the world. And its planes are now helping protect the Libyan people from the brutality of the Qaddafi regime. And those bases here in Italy that host over 14,000 Americans and 17,000 dependents; those bases are also supporting coalition aircraft; together providing a critical humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people.
And, Mr. President, even as Italy has supported calls for greater democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, and has helped deal with the humanitarian crises, it’s maintained a critical contribution to Afghanistan, as well as Iraq and Lebanon.
The sacrifices that Italian troops are making is evident by the injuries recently both in Lebanon and Iraq and Afghanistan, and the President sends his sympathy and good wishes to those who God willing are recovering and to the families of those Italian soldiers for the sacrifices they’re making on behalf of the coalition efforts.
Let me add that we’re also grateful of the hard work gone in to training Iraqi security forces and Afghan security forces by probably what is recognized as an organization second-to-none, the Carabinieri are second-to-none in the ability to train in paramilitary conditions what is badly needed in both Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Italian generosity in helping to develop schools and hospitals and cultural institutions are also enabling Afghanistan to build a more secure future and prepare them better as we transition to all-Afghan lead. And so, again, on behalf of the 14,000 Americans stationed here and over 16,000 family members, we’re profoundly grateful to you, Mr. President, to the Italian government, and to the Italian people for their generosity, their friendship and their partnership.
And it is truly an honor for me. I was kidding the President, I said, I may be of Irish heritage, but I was smart enough to marry an Italian girl, an Italian-American. (Laughter.)
And so not all of us are slow, Mr. President. Some of us pick it up very quickly. And I just want you to know it’s an honor for me. And we sent you our best. We sent you David Thorne* as our ambassador who you know well. David lived in -- in all his formative years here in Rome; I think 17 years or so. And when we were elected, I think there only -- the most sought-after job in American diplomacy, Mr. President, is to be ambassador to Italy. And David said he was coming home. So just make sure you send him back when the term is over, so --
Again, congratulations on the anniversary. I look forward to the festivities. And it’s a great pleasure to be with a man of such integrity, Mr. President. Thank you.
PRESIDENT NAPOLITANO: Thank you very much. (As translated.) I have already thanked the Vice President during our talk, but I also wish to thank him in public. I thank, in fact, Ambassador Thorne for this wonderful gift which I’ve just received. I must say that, of course, this gift is a gift of great meaning, and it referred to the proclamation by President Obama for March the 17th, and it talks about Giuseppe Garibaldi as being a source of inspiration for those who were fighting for the unity of the United States of America, for the cause of the Union during the Civil War in America. I do wish to thank you for this wonderful and very symbolic gift. Thank you very much.
I don’t have any prejudices, nothing against the Irish, and I am very ready to grant you a title of honorary Italian if you will accept it.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Oh, I accept. If I die, I’d like to be reborn in Italy, Mr. President. That's all I can say. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 6:18 CEST