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Jul 27, 2023, 7:32am EDT
politics

Joe Biden welcomes Italy’s far-right leader to the White House and they have a lot to agree on

REUTERS/Yves Herman
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Days after Giorgia Meloni won the election to become Italy’s prime minister last fall, President Joe Biden pointed to her victory as an example of how democracy is at risk in the U.S. and abroad during a meeting with Democratic governors. His administration was privately anxious about her rise.

“He looked at Meloni as a dangerous figure,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Fast forward 10 months: Later today, Biden will welcome Meloni to the White House. Despite Biden’s initial misgivings, the two leaders do see eye-to-eye on the biggest foreign policy crisis of the moment: Russia’s war in Ukraine. They have what White House national security spokesman John Kirby called a “good, productive relationship.”

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Biden and Meloni have vastly different views when it comes to their domestic policies, which is why Biden sought a contrast with her in the lead up to the U.S. midterm elections. Meloni’s government has made it so only a child’s biological parents are named on birth certificates in the case of same-sex couples, for example, and has embraced hardline immigration policies (although she has recently softened her rhetoric on the issue).

But Meloni has surprised the international community with her staunch support for Ukraine, providing security assistance and welcoming in Ukrainian refugees. She has also displayed a willingness to rebuff China.

“From the perspective of the Biden administration, Meloni has turned out better than expected,” said Charles Kupchan, a former Obama National Security Council official and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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“The president has enjoyed working with her,” Kirby said Wednesday. “There’s been a lot of alignment on a lot of key foreign policy issues.”

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The two leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine, North Africa, and cooperation on China later today. Meloni is said to be preparing to withdraw Italy from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an issue she’ll likely discuss privately with Biden, who has spearheaded a rival infrastructure initiative meant to give developing nations an alternative to Beijing’s program. Meloni will also meet with bipartisan leaders on Capitol Hill, according to aides.

“Are there issues of tension stemming from Meloni’s domestic agenda? Yes. but they’re going to be in the background, just like they are with Poland,” said Kupchan.

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