President Joe Biden gave a warm welcome to Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, displaying a different public tone than expressed by the administration when she first rose to power last year. 

In October of last year, Meloni became the head of Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II. Her White House visit, the first since she has become premier, comes as Italy is set to take up the presidency of the Group of Seven industrialized nations next year. 

What You Need To Know

  • President Joe Biden hosted Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday as Italy prepares to take up the presidency next year of the Group of Seven industrialized nations

  • Biden administration concerns about her ideology have been eased by her support for Ukraine and her seeming openness to pull back from Italy’s participation in China’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative
  • Biden thanked her for Italy's support of Ukraine and called her a fried at the top of the Oval Office meeting
  • Meloni became Italy’s first far-right leader to serve as premier in Italy’s post-World War II republic after the Brothers of Italy party she co-founded more than a decade ago emerged as the largest vote-getter in the September 2022 elections

In short remarks at the top of the pair’s Oval Office meeting, Biden called Meloni a friend and thanked her for her country’s continued backing of Ukraine. This, along with her seeming openness to pull back from Italy’s participation in China’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative, appeared to help ease some of the White House’s initial trepidations about her ideology. 

“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,” Biden said to Meloni at Thursday’s meeting. “And I thank the Italian people. I want to thank them for supporting you and supporting Ukraine. It makes a big difference.”

Meloni said relations between the U.S. and Italy should remain strong “regardless of the political colors” of who is in power in the two countries. She also underscored that with their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “Western nations have shown that they can rely on each other.”

“Those who live in peace should be the first supporters of the Ukrainian cause,” Meloni said.

White House officials said the leaders’ agenda was focused on Ukraine and China as well as the stream of migration from North Africa to Europe’s southern shores. More than 1,900 migrants have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean so far this year, bringing the total of dead and missing since 2014 to 27,675, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“The Transatlantic Partnership is the cornerstone of our shared security and Italian troops have played a critical role in Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond,” Biden told Meloni. 

The Biden administration viewed Meloni’s predecessor, the economist and former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, as an intellectual force and one of its strongest allies in Europe. Soon after Meloni’s victory in September, Biden warned about the rise of hard-right populism in Europe and in the United States.

“You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election,” Biden said in an address to the Democratic Governors Association after Meloni’s victory. “You’re seeing what’s happening around the world. And the reason I bother to say that is we can’t be sanguine about what’s happening here, either.”

Before the visit, the White House played down Biden’s initial skepticism about Meloni.

“On issues of foreign policy, there’s been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we’re taking on with Italy,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. “Italy is a NATO ally and they are a very competent NATO ally and they’ve been a tremendous supporter of Ukraine.”

White House officials note that Meloni has been one of the European Union’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and Italy has hosted some 170,000 Ukrainians who have fled the war. Meloni has also been a champion of a stronger NATO and views the trans-Atlantic alliance as the linchpin of traditionally strong U.S.-Italian relations.

When Meloni ran for premier, she called for a naval blockade of northern Africa to thwart smugglers’ boats overcrowded with migrants determined to reach Europe’s southern shores. But once in office, she quickly dropped talk of any blockade.

Meloni has also expressed skepticism about Italy’s ties with China through the Belt and Road Initiative. In 2019, Italy became the first and only G7 nation to join China’s ambitious infrastructure building effort, despite objections from the United States.

The project was launched by Beijing in 2013 by President Xi Jinping to link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure. The ambition for the project has expanded to Africa, Oceania and Latin America, significantly broadening China’s economic and political influence. Italy must either renew or abandon the accord by early next year.

Before her White House meeting, Meloni headed to the U.S. Capitol to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as other lawmakers.