Biden, Italy’s Meloni to hold talks amid concerns over Ukraine and political headwinds at home

US President Joe Biden will host Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for talks at the White House on Friday as the Democratic leader struggles to persuade House Republicans to pass legislation that would restore the aid to Ukraine and while both face political headwinds at home.

Biden has sought to assure European leaders that the United States continues to support Ukraine even as he has failed to win approval of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson refused to bring it up for a vote in the House.

Ahead of Meloni’s visit, White House officials said they had no good answers for allies on how to find an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopen the spigot of much-needed U.S. aid to Kiev as Ukraine tries to defend itself from the Russian invasion.

“It’s obviously having a demonstrable impact not only on our national security but also on the security of allies and partners around the world,” said White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton.

Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to accept the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying Congress “must first deal with the needs of the United States.

Friday’s meeting is the second between Biden and Meloni in about seven months. Both leaders are grappling with war in the Middle East and Europe and seeking to shore up their public standing.

Biden has begun preparing for an almost certain rematch in November against former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee. Biden’s bid for a second term is complicated by voters’ concerns about his age, 81, frustration among some Democrats over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas and mixed feelings about the state of the US economy.

Polls show that Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy party, which came to power in 2022, still enjoys the most support in Italy, but has seen a notable decline over the past year. Her bloc faced a setback this week when the candidate she campaigned for was defeated in regional elections on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

Meloni’s popularity will be tested further with four more regional elections in 2024 and national elections for Italy’s representatives in the European Parliament scheduled for June.

“Meloni and Biden, for different reasons, seem to be in difficulties, so this meeting can show public opinion that there is a solid relationship with allies who are considered important,” said Gianluca Pastori, an analyst at the ISPI think tank in Milan. .

Meloni traveled to kyiv last week to host a meeting of Group of Seven leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. The leaders of Belgium, Canada and the EU Commission joined Meloni in kyiv, and Biden and other leaders joined by video. Italy assumed its one-year presidency of the G7 in January.

During his recent visit to kyiv, Meloni reaffirmed Italian support for Ukraine and signed a security cooperation agreement for military and technical assistance until the end of the year. Italy is also committed to helping Ukraine rebuild historical monuments.

There was unease in the Biden administration when Meloni came to power as head of Italy’s first far-right government since the end of World War II. But the two have found common ground on the Ukraine cause, and Biden praised Meloni and Italy for their efforts to back Kiev when he visited Washington in July.

The leaders’ agenda was also expected to cover efforts by the United States, Egypt and Qatar to negotiate an extended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Italy’s priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from the north of Africa and the policies of their countries towards China. .

Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a ceasefire agreement could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a possible deal may have been delayed after Israeli troops fired on Thursday into a large crowd of Palestinians rushing to get food from an aid convoy in Gaza City. More than 100 people died.

Meloni reacted with “dismay and concern” to the incident.

“It is urgent for Israel to determine the dynamics of the events and who is responsible,” said Meloni, who called for intensifying negotiations to reach a ceasefire and the release of the hostages.

Meloni will travel to Canada to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.

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