President Donald Trump recently hosted Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House. Publisher of the Italian Tribune, Buddy Fortunato received a personal invitation to attend the historic press conference at the White House, during which both leaders announced a new strategic dialogue on a number of issues including immigration, commerce and combating terrorism. Additionally, the two leaders have been notably complimentary to each other since the Group of Seven (G-7) Summit held in Canada this past June.
Said President Trump during the press conference, “We had a very good G-7 meeting, where Giuseppe and I became friends. I think we were probably more closely aligned than anybody else in the room,” he said referring to the summit where trade tensions took center stage.
In response, PM Conte endorsed the President’s stance on trade, NATO and Russia. “You have a President who is a strong supporter and advocate of the interests of the American people and the American country. He’s a great negotiator.”
The President opened the press conference with highly complementary words about Italy and the Prime Minister. “In your election, the Italian nation has reaffirmed the great traditions of sovereignty, law and accountability that stretch all the way back to ancient Rome. This proud heritage sustains our civilization and must be always defended. Today, Prime Minister Conte and I are pleased to announce a new strategic dialogue between Italy and the United States that will enhance cooperation on a range of issues. This includes joint security efforts in the Mediterranean, where we recognize Italy’s leadership role in the stabilization of Libya and North Africa. They’ve been terrific,” said President Trump.
During their meeting at the White House, the two men expressed alignment on immigration issues, as President Trump supported PM Conte’s hardline immigration stance. Illegal immigration became a pivotal issue in the Italian election that was held in March of this year. Italy, as a first port of call for those arriving by boat, has become a focal point of Europe’s wider immigration challenge and the new Italian government’s decision to bar the immigrants underlined the deep divisions in Europe over how to handle an influx of people mostly from the Middle East and Africa.
“Like the United States, Italy is currently under enormous strain as a result of illegal immigration,” said the President. “They have fought it hard. The Prime Minister frankly is with us today because of illegal immigration. Italy got tired of it.”
In response, the Prime Minister said, “My government and President Trump’s administration represent change. They were elected in order to change the status quo and to improve their citizens’ living conditions.”
During the meeting, Trump reiterated his threat to shut down the government, calling the U.S. immigration law the “worst” in the world. “I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It’s time we had proper border security,” said the President.
Regarding trade relations between the U.S. and Italy, the President said, “now is also the perfect time to expand commerce between the United States and Italy. America’s booming economy – we’re setting records in so many categories – creates enormous opportunities for investment. Likewise, I recommend investment in Italy. It’s a great place with great people. I look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister to open up new commercial opportunities that will reduce our trade deficit substantially and increase our mutual prosperity.”
Additionally, both leaders agreed to cooperate against unfair Chinese trade practices and work on reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO). “It’s a years-old system,” said PM Conte, referring to WTO, calling it “not well-functioning” and “not well-rational” organization.
The President mentioned the need for both countries to combat “unfair foreign trade practices from non-market economies,” with a reference directed at China. “They’re brutal, but we’re winning. In this area, like so many others, cooperation between Italy and the United States can make a tremendous difference, not only for our countries, but all over the world,” said the President.
Regarding Russia and Iran, PM Conte said the position regarding Russia has not changed and that Italy is still open to dialogue. “We do believe that Russia plays a fundamental role in all international geopolitical crises,” Conte explained.
In June, both the President and the Prime Minister both called on the G-7 leaders to reinstate Russia as a member (Russia was suspended from what was then the G-8 after the annexation of Crimea in 2014). The President said it would be an asset to have Russia back in the group, stating at the time, “We’re looking for peace in the world. We’re not looking to play games.”
PM Conte was the only G-7 leader who quickly backed Trump’s statement, responding to Trump’s proposal with a tweet: “I agree with President Donald Trump: Russia should re-enter the G8. It’s in everyone’s interests.”
In the press conference, the Prime Minister expanded on his position, “Italy is favorable to a dialogue with Russia. Italy also considers that the dialogue between the United States and Russia is fundamental so that we can have positive results in a more global perspective for stability and security purposes.”
The Prime Minister also supported Trump’s stance on Iran and NATO. Both leaders agreed on dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons and encouraging other countries to press Iran to end its nuclear activities. With respect to NATO, President Trump said the alliance was “essentially going out of business” before he demanded change. He has repeatedly asked NATO allies to increase their contributions and meet their commitment to spend two percent of their gross domestic product for the defense alliance. Although Rome is struggling with its own finances, PM Conte said he backed the President’s efforts. The Prime Minister stated that allies “need to rebalance the expenditure, which is borne traditionally by the United States, which is very disproportionate.”
As a result of the pressure, the President said NATO members paid $44 billion more last year. He continued, “And this year, I said it in a little bit stronger tone and they’re paying hundreds of billions of dollars more over the years. If you speak to [NATO] Secretary-General Stoltenberg, I think he’s my biggest fan.”
Although this was a press conference at the White House, there was an air of confidence and ease about both leaders as if each was addressing a kindred spirit and able to do so in a no-nonsense manner. For anyone who has listened to political rhetoric for hours on end, you could only walk away inspired by the candor and honesty in both the Prime Minister and our President.