Letta gets Obama's endorsement
US president praises Italian PM's leadership, integrity17 October, 20:30
(ANSA) - Washington, October 17 - Italian Premier Enrico Letta got a ringing endorsement from US President Barack Obama on his first visit to the White House Thursday.
Obama told Letta he had been "impressed" by his leadership of an unprecedented and unruly right-left government, cobbled together between traditional foes to end a two-month post-election stalemate in April.
He also praised Letta's "integrity" in staying firm amid intense political pressure.
Letta recently won a key confidence vote to strengthen the government after uneasy ally Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate and three-time premier, did a last-minute U-turn because of a rebellion by leading members of his People of Freedom (PdL) party.
The Italian premier, former deputy head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), has since sealed a PD-PdL deal on a budget bill to keep Italy's finances in shape while helping the economy emerge from its longest recession in 20 years.
Obama said that, with the budget and other moves, Italy is "on the right track" with essential political and economic reforms.
The economic restructuring Letta is attempting will be "of great help to bring the country out of recession," Obama said.
Letta said the narrowing spread with Germany's top-rated bonds and Italian paper shows Italy is on the right fiscal path.
He said markets had welcomed his 2014 budget, launched Tuesday night. The spread closed trading at 233 basis points after hitting a two-year low of 229 earlier this week.
Letta said the last-minute US debt-ceiling deal, which avoided a potentially catastrophic default, was good for Italy because it will keep interest rates low for the debt-laden country.
Italy has the second-biggest public debt in the eurozone after Greece and pays a high premium to investors for holding its bonds.
A US default would have sparked a sharp rise in global interest rates.
Letta promised Obama that Italy will work hard to promote growth in Italy and Europe.
He said growth would be a priority of Italy's six-month spell at the EU helm from the middle of next year.
Italy has been trying to get the EU to move from German-led austerity policies to growth-stoking measures, alongside fiscal discipline. The "importance of European growth," dealing with youth unemployment and developing a "strong growth agenda" were key topics of the talks, Obama said. Obama said Italy was an "exceptional partner" for the United States. He cited Rome's role in US efforts to help restore order in Libya, end the conflict in Syria and keep up the war on terror. US military bases in Italy are of crucial importance to the security of American personnel operating in North Africa, US officials said.
Some 30,000 US military personnel and their families are based in various parts of Italy.
Italy is playing a lead role along with the US, Britain and Turkey in helping Libya's efforts to restore order and rebuild its institutions, the White House said.
Italian troops have been "extraordinary" in helping US-led efforts to make Afghanistan safer, Obama told Letta.
Italy contributed some 3,000 troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan and is now drawing them down like the other allies.