In Washington, Salvini stresses Italy's closeness to Trump administration

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and US Vice President Mike Pence. (Supplied, Twitter)
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and US Vice President Mike Pence. (Supplied, Twitter)

Matteo Salvini, the far-right Italian deputy prime minister, met with top US officials in Washington on Monday and spoke of his "closeness" to President Donald Trump's administration.

Salvini, whose powerful League party did well in last month's European Parliament elections, met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and later with Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence tweeted that the two had a "great meeting", discussing "the US - Italy relationship and our shared priorities".

"The transatlantic alliance is stronger than ever!" the vice president wrote.

Salvini and Pompeo "reiterated the value of the United States' longstanding relationship with Italy, including as NATO Allies and members of the G7," the US State Department said.

At a news conference at the Italian embassy, Salvini, whose party is often at odds with their coalition partners, the Five Star Movement, did not discuss his own role in cracking down on boats trying to save migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

He focused instead on a "shared vision" with the Trump administration of "Iran, Venezuela, Libya, the situation in the Middle East, Israel's right to exist" and "concerns about Chinese arrogance towards Europe and the African continent".

Like Trump, he called for dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to "bring Moscow closer to the system of western values rather than be driven into Beijing's arms".

Also like the US president, he defended massive tax cuts despite concerns in Brussels about Rome's soaring debt, and went as far as calling for a "Trumpian budget" in his country.

Invitation to Pompeo

Salvini also distanced himself from Italy's signing of an accord that saw it become the first G7 member to join China's "New Silk Road" global trade network, which the United States views with suspicion as a means of expanding Chinese hegemony.

And he denounced the government's failure to formally recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, as Washington and other European countries have done.

"If it was up to me, we would have already recognised him," he said.

As for the European Union, which Trump has often targeted, Salvini criticised "weaknesses" before laying into the EU's chief diplomat and fellow Italian Federica Mogherini a day before she makes her own visit to Washington.

Trump and his administration have not made any secret of their affinity for the populist government in Rome.

"Salvini's background and approach to foreign policy... draws a lot of inspiration from President Trump's America First policy and this creates a lot of fractures" with the Five Star Movement, said Italian researcher Giovanna De Maio at the Brookings Institution.

Noting the links between the League leader and "US far-right circles" including Steve Bannon, a former close Trump aide, she pointed out that "having an endorsement from the US is particularly important for Salvini's leverage in the European Union context".

Salvini said he had persuaded Pompeo to visit Italy's central Abruzzo region, where his grandparents came from, and played up the ideological links with other countries.

Between Italy, the United States, Israel, Brazil, Poland and Hungary, there is a closeness in their vision of the world, of rights and values," he said, insisting that the League was not "isolated".

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