President Barack Obama rolled out the red carpet for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Tuesday as the two leaders met to discuss the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq and the refugee crisis that has tested Europe.
The final state dinner of Obama’s presidency, which ends on Jan. 20, comes at an opportune time for Renzi, who faces a referendum on Dec. 4 that could decide his political future.
Ahead of the meeting, Obama praised Renzi’s vision and proposed reforms in an interview with Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica.
Obama and Renzi were to hold a joint news conference at 11:40 a.m. EDT.
Obama wants to “put wind in the sails of someone that he sees as one of the most promising young politicians in Europe,” Charles Kupchan, the top White House adviser on European affairs, told reporters on Thursday.
This is the second time this year Obama has weighed in on domestic political battles facing his European allies. In April, he visited London in support of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s unsuccessful efforts to persuade Britain to remain in the European Union.
Obama backs Renzi’s reform push and his support for a strong, integrated Europe after the Brexit vote, Kupchan said.
Italy has been an ally in Washington’s efforts in the Middle East, sending troops to support Iraq’s fight against Islamic State and becoming a founding member of an international group seeking a political solution in Syria’s civil war.
Italy has trained local Iraqi police to establish order in Iraqi cities – a critical element of a strategy as Iraqi forces, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, begin an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which Islamic State seized in 2014.
Later, the leaders will dine in a shimmering tent with 400 guests, with a first course of sweet potato agnolotti and a main course of beef braciole pinwheel created by celebrity Italian American chef Mario Batali.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Trott)