Italian President Sergio Mattarella Begins Week-Long Visit to US

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 5, 2016. President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 5, 2016. President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella will meet President Obama at the White House today as part of his first seven-day official visit to the United States during which he will visit Washington, New York and Houston.

Mattarella will be accompanied to his meetings today by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and both will hold further talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden throughout the day.

Italian presidential meetings with U.S. presidents are always treated with great pride and given much attention in the Italian media. Mattarella's visit has been one of the lead stories on the Italian news broadcasts since his Saturday departure for the United States.

Italy has always been treated as a valued NATO ally and a close partner on a wide range of global issues. U.S. presidents and secretaries of state have repeatedly and publicly said how much the United States appreciates what Italy does in difficult conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other hot-spot peace-keeping missions around the world.

The two men are expected to speak about a number of issues, focusing in particular on the crisis in the Mediterranean, the shared efforts to counter ISIS -- especially in Libya and Syria -- and the migrant situation in Europe. Italian leading dailies today report that Obama will probably ask Italy to do more in Libya to counter ISIS while Italy’s president is expected to insist that all must be done to bolster the political situation in Libya before any sort of joint military action can be taken.

Economic matters affecting Europe may also be a topic of discussion at today’s meetings between the leaders, along with a more detailed exchange of views on the yet-to-be-finalized Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

U.S. administrative officials have taken note that Italy’s young Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has seemed to abandon Italy’s accommodating stance toward the European Union in recent months and has taken a more aggressive position on hot-topic issues, even challenging Merkel's Germany with his proposals.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports today that President Mattarella and his delegation are also expected to use this trip to continue Italy’s campaign to win a seat among the 10 members of the U.N. security council. The vote to choose member states is expected later this year and the General Assembly will have to approve all candidate states. The Italian presidential delegation will hold meetings at the U.N. Wednesday.

Mattarella served as minister of education and defense during his parliamentary career and then was elected judge on the constitutional court in 2011 prior to being elected president of the republic in 2015.

The rather shy 74-year old Sicilian was not a well-known public figure when he was elected but Italians seem to have warmed to his quiet manner. His brother, also a politician, was killed by the Sicilian mafia in 1980.

Mattarella paid homage to the late President John Kennedy Sunday, placing a wreath on his tombstone at the military cemetery in Arlington and visited Washington’s National Gallery, which he told reporters was “splendid.”

Mattarella is also expected to visit Columbia University, Ellis Island, Ground Zero and the Johnson Space Center during his visit.