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The first official visit of PM Matteo Renzi to the US reaffirms the ties between the two allies

by Antonella Ciancio

Matteo Renzi, the youngest-ever Italian prime minister, started his first official visit to the capital of the United States speaking off-the-cuff to a group of promising students of Georgetown University in an address meant to reaffirm the friendship between the two allies amid new global economic and geopolitical challenges.

The 40-year-old centre-left prime minister, known for his direct eloquence and reformist drive, spoke yesterday at Healy Hall, a Neo-medieval landmark building on the main campus of the Jesuit university, encouraged by questions of students and professors and ready to offer his view.

The public address formally kicked off an official visit that was eagerly awaited since Renzi took power in February 2014, especially considering the close Transatlantic ties between Italy and the US.

Renzi will meet today with Obama at the White House after spending the night at Blair House, the prestigious guest house used by the White House to welcome heads of state and ambassadors on official visit. The latest Italian to admire the prestigious 18th-century residence was former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano in February 2013.

Renzi and Obama are then expected to hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. This is not the leaders’ first meeting, however. Obama and Renzi first met in March 2014 in Rome, only few weeks after the former mayor of Florence took over the leadership of the eurozone’s third-largest economy amid a political and economic crisis promising a vigorous change.

Renzi comes to Washington determined to show that he has kept his promise, as his government presses ahead with crucial reforms from the labor market to electoral law.
In Rome, Obama said already that he was impressed “by the energy and vision” that Renzi was bringing to his new role.

Since then, the two leaders have met at four international summits and spoken over the phone on several occasions. In September, Renzi made his first US tour as prime minister meeting with the financial community in New York and young entrepreneurs in San Francisco.

But on the Washington agenda this time is a different range of global political challenges, including support to Ukraine and the US-EU unity on pressuring Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to respect the Minsk agreements.

Also on the table is a possible international solution to the situation in Libya, as well as international efforts to counter the threat of Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) and the Middle East, the White House said. Also, the two leaders will discuss economic developments in Europe, whose slow recovery remains a reason of concern amid risks of a worsening of the debt crisis in Greece.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The US is one of Italy’s most important trade partners, with two-way trade in 2014 totaling $59 billion, according to official data.

Renzi’s visit comes during a very intense week for policymakers in Washington, as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank hold their Spring meetings in the presence of Finance ministers and top central bankers from all over the world, including Economy minister Pier Carlo Padoan and Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco.

Renzi’s visit included a dinner last night at Villa Firenze, the residence of Italian ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, and today a visit to the editorial board of the Washington Post.