Biden hosts Italian PM for Ukraine talks

AFP , Tuesday 10 May 2022

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi headed to Washington on Tuesday for talks with President Joe Biden dominated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Biden   Draghi
File Photo: U.S. President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Italy s Prime Minister Mario Draghi prior to a ceremony at the Chigi Palace in Rome, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. AP

Despite Italy's dependence on Russian gas and its traditionally friendly ties with Moscow, Draghi's government has been a staunch supporter of efforts to punish Russia for the war.

Along with Western allies, Rome has sent weapons to support Ukraine, although there is increasing unease about the move within Draghi's national unity government.

Draghi has also pledged support for any European Union sanctions on Russia's energy sector despite the risks -- 40 percent of Italy's natural gas imports currently coming from Russia.

The EU is currently debating a phased ban on Russian oil imports, although this move would not touch Moscow's huge gas exports.

Germany has ruled out an immediate embargo on all Russian energy, especially gas, although it aims to end Russian oil imports by the end of this year.

Contrary to expectations, "Italy is not opposing gas sanctions", noted Luigi Scazzieri, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.While some could accuse Italy of hiding behind Germany, Scazzieri highlighted that it was also "taking active steps" to diversify its supply, including a recent deal with Algeria.

The meeting at the White House comes ahead of crucial G7 and NATO summits in Europe next month. It is expected to cover help for Ukraine and measures against Moscow, as well as the global economy, Europe's energy security and climate change.

Draghi has particularly close ties with the US. He did his PhD at MIT and worked for both the World Bank and US investment bank Goldman Sachs. He was also president of the European Central Bank for eight years.

While in Washington, Draghi will receive an award from the Atlantic Council for distinguished international leadership.

It will be presented by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a ceremony on Wednesday.

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