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Obama leaves Rome for Riyadh

US president met pope, Napolitano and Renzi in Italy

28 March, 14:10
Obama leaves Rome for Riyadh (ANSA) - Rome, March 28 - United States President Barack Obama left Rome abroad Air Force One on Friday after two nights in the Italian capital and headed to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. During a packed 36 hours in Italy, Obama had meetings with Pope Francis, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Premier Matteo Renzi and also found time for a private tour of the Colosseum. His international mission this week also included talks at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, at which the United States and other members of the G8 suspended Russia from the group of leading industrialised nations over its annexation of the Ukraine peninsula of Crimea. He arrived in Rome on Wednesday from Brussels, where he attended an EU-US summit and met NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In Rome, the European and American economies were brought into sharp focus given a proposed free-trade treaty between the US and the EU, which Italy chairs from July through the end of December in its duty presidency of the 28-member union. Renzi told Obama that "we hope to finalize the free-trade treaty" at that time, "or in 2015". The proposed free-trade agreement, which would encompass nearly half of the world's economy, could add $100 billion to economic output in both the US and Europe, officials in Washington and Brussels say.

Public support has dwindled since talks began eight months ago in the aftermath of reports the US spied in Europe. Recently, however, analysts say the climate to negotiate has improved amid tighter EU-US cooperation in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea. Speaking in Brussels Wednesday, Obama announced he had authorized the export of American natural gas to Europe, lessening the continent's dependence on Russian energy.

Thursday's talks began with the pope, the first meeting between the two.

Topics of discussion ranged from political corruption, to youth unemployment, and ended with Obama asking the Argentine pontiff to pray for him and his family. Turning to Italian affairs, Obama met President Napolitano, then Premier Renzi.

Obama told the young leader he had "confidence" in the reforms Renzi wants to introduce to revive the weak Italian economy and overhaul the country's political system. "The premier will know how to take Italy forward," Obama told a press conference in Rome after meeting Renzi, who became Italy's youngest premier at 39 last month. Obama added that he was "favourably impressed by the energy" of Renzi and that his arrival was positive for Italy and for a new generation of European leaders.

As he made his exit Friday, Obama suggested he may come back to Rome for celebrations surrounding the 70th anniversary of the Italian capital's liberation from Nazi occupation on June 4, Mayor Ignazio Marino said after a brief encounter. "He said the summer is a good time to return to Rome. It seems to me that he gave answer that suggested it was possible," he said.