China tops agenda as Biden welcomes Italy’s Meloni to Washington

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Angelo Amante

WASHINGTON/ROME (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, with the Ukraine war and Italy’s relations with China expected to be among the top items on the agenda.

Italy’s first woman prime minister came to power last October and is seeking an assertive role abroad as she plans the country’s upcoming Italian presidency of the Group of 7 (G7) nations in 2024.

She and her right-wing coalition have staked out positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights sharply at odds with those of Biden, a Democrat who used last year’s Italian election results as an occasion to warn fellow liberals about the dangers facing the world’s democracies.

Meloni is also expected on Thursday to meet with Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has said he could consider an impeachment inquiry into Biden.

A White House spokesperson said on Wednesday that Biden “has a good relationship” with Meloni and both sides emphasized the trip was an opportunity to reaffirm a strong partnership between the countries, including over the billions of dollars in military and other aid the West has provided Ukraine in its grinding war against Russia since 2022.

Meloni’s first trip to Washington comes as she faces a decision over whether to maintain Italy’s membership in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure plan, a program that Washington has been working to counter.

Italy in 2019 became the first and so far only G7 nation to join the Chinese infrastructure initiative, with critics saying the partnership would enable China to gain control of sensitive technologies and vital infrastructure.

Italy is seen as highly unlikely to renew the deal with China when it expires in March 2024, and Meloni said in May it was possible to have good relations with Beijing without being part of it.

The G7 formally launched an alternative to Belt and Road, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, last year. The countries said in May at their last leaders’ summit in Japan, that they were trying to “reduce excessive dependencies” on other countries but “not decoupling or turning inwards.”

The Biden-Meloni meeting takes place less than a week after she hosted an international conference on migration in Rome, as Italy tries to cope with a high volume of migrants arriving by boat from North Africa.

Italy is planning to discuss with the U.S. how to support the development and stability of Africa, Meloni’s office said, which will also be among the main topics of Italy’s G7 presidency.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Angelo Amante in Rome; Editing by Don Durfee and Diane Craft)

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