ROME - U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House Monday.
"He's a man who is doing a fantastic job," Trump said about Conte before the two met for talks.
The White House has said the talks were aimed at deepening "cooperation in addressing global conflicts and promoting economic prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic" and at recognizing "the historical and cultural ties between the countries."
Conte became Italy's prime minister through a coalition deal reached by two anti-establishment political parties, the League and the Five Star Movement after Italy's March 4 election.
These two parties garnered most votes, and had leaders who both aspired to become prime minister. As a compromise in forming a joint government, they chose Conte, a soft-spoken law professor with no previous political experience. The move made Conte the leader of Western Europe’s first fully populist government.
Since becoming Italy's leader, Conte has emerged as Trump’s strongest supporter in Western Europe.
Trump has met Conte twice, at the recent G-7 and NATO summits, but the U.S. leader has already declared him “a really great guy” and said he “will do a great job — the people of Italy have got it right.” The two have at least one thing in common — populist administrations.
The meeting comes at a time of tension between the United States and Europe.
Conte backed Trump’s call in June for Moscow to re-enter the Group of Seven, a proposal flatly rejected at the summit by all the other members of the group of industrialized Western powers. Russia was ousted from the Group of Eight after its annexation of Crimea.
The two right-leaning parties in the Italian coalition government have long sought a re-evaluation of Rome’s relationship with Moscow, including a call for the lifting of EU sanctions. Italy has said European sanctions on Russia also hurt Italian firms. Conte has since said the sanctions should not be dropped quickly.
Trump has expressed support for the Italian government’s high-profile attempts to toughen the European Union's asylum migration policy. He and Conte hold similar views on the issue of migrants.
The Italian government has said the talks between the two leaders on Monday will focus on the issues in the "Mediterranean, Iraq, Afghanistan" and the intensification of “cooperation between the two countries with the aim of economic growth for both countries.”
Washington wants to ensure Rome will continue its role in Afghanistan, especially after Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta recently said Italy’s troops serving there may have to be reduced.
Libya also is a significant issue of concern for Italy. Conte is likely to seek support from Trump as Rome tries to play a leading role in the rebuilding of Libya. For Italy, Tripoli is an important energy partner. It also wants Libya to be stabilized because of its role as a starting-off point for migrants trying to reach European Union countries.