Biden hails Italian PM’s Ukraine stance as US aid fears mount

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President Joe Biden hailed Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine Friday, as they held talks overshadowed by worries about the future of US aid for Kyiv.

Despite their political differences, the far-right Italian leader and the veteran Democrat have had warm relations, particularly because of Meloni’s strong stance on Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

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“I want to thank you for Italy’s unwavering support for Ukraine,” Biden, 81, said as he sat with Meloni, 47, in front of a crackling fire in the Oval Office of the White House.

“We have each other’s backs -- we also have Ukraine’s back,” added Biden, who sported socks decorated with Stars and Stripes flags.

Biden sought to reassure Meloni that he was urging Republicans in Congress to stop blocking $60 billion of vital US military assistance for Ukraine.

The impasse has left Kyiv desperately short of weapons as it tries to fight off recent Russian advances, and alarmed Washington’s European allies who fear Moscow has further ambitions.

It was Meloni’s second visit to the White House, after she came in July last year.

Meloni, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, said Ukraine would be top of the agenda at a leaders’ summit in Italy in June.

“We intend first and foremost to reaffirm the rules-based international order defending freedom and giving peace for Ukraine,” Meloni said alongside Biden.

Meloni also “emphasized the significance of sustained US support for Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.

Biden quipped that he played the song “Georgia on My Mind” by soul great Ray Charles for Giorgia Meloni as she arrived for the meeting.

The two leaders also agreed on the importance of aid for Gaza as Israel’s offensive continues, with Biden announcing that the US would start airdropping relief.

“The humanitarian crisis is our number one priority,” Meloni said, calling for a long-term solution that provides for a separate Palestinian state.

Italy called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza on Thursday after Israeli troops opened fire at an aid convoy, while the United States said the incident underscored the need for a “temporary” truce.

Meloni and Biden also discussed North Africa -- the source of migrant flows to Italy -- and cooperation on China, the White House said.

Italy has emerged as a staunch European and NATO ally for Washington in backing Kyiv, despite the presence in Meloni’s government of figures like deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, once an outspoken admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But like other US allies it has reacted with alarm to the political chaos in Washington that has stalled aid for Ukraine.

Republicans have said they will not pass aid until Biden takes action to curb migrant crossings over the US-Mexico border, but have refused to pass bills doing just that. The president has accused them of playing politics.

The leaders of a number of key US allies have visited or will visit the White House in the early months of 2024 -- an election year for Biden -- as they seek to shore up Ukraine’s increasingly desperate position.

“The world is watching, and that’s what House Republican leaders need to understand,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

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