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Biden, Meloni to Hold Talks on Ukraine 03/01 06:55

   President Joe Biden is set to host Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Friday 
for talks at the White House as the Democratic administration struggles to 
persuade House Republicans to pass legislation that would replenish aid to 
Ukraine and as both leaders face political headwinds at home.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is set to host Italian Premier 
Giorgia Meloni on Friday for talks at the White House as the Democratic 
administration struggles to persuade House Republicans to pass legislation that 
would replenish aid to Ukraine and as both leaders face political headwinds at 
home.

   Biden has sought to assure European leaders that the U.S. remains behind 
Ukraine even as he's been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid 
package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for 
Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican 
Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.

   Ahead of Meloni's visit, White House officials said they don't have good 
answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans 
and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that's badly needed as Ukraine 
tries to fend off Russia's invasion.

   "I can't, again, provide a portal into the thinking of House Republicans 
right now, but it's obviously having a demonstrable impact not just on our 
national security but the security of allies and partners around the world," 
White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said.

   Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch 
McConnell, passionately urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to 
take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress 
"must take care of America's needs first."

   It will be the second meeting between Biden and Meloni in about seven 
months. Both leaders are grappling with war in the Middle East and Europe and 
looking to shore up their public standing.

   Biden, 81, has begun ramping for an all-but-certain rematch in November 
against former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee. Biden's bid for 
a second term is complicated by the electorate's concern about his age, 
frustration among some Democrats over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war and 
mixed feelings about the state of the American economy.

   Polls show that Meloni's right-wing Brothers of Italy Party, which swept 
into power in 2022, still enjoys the most support in Italy, but it has seen a 
noticeable decline over the last year. Her bloc faced a setback this week when 
the candidate she campaigned for was defeated in regional elections on the 
Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

   Meloni's popularity will be further tested with four more regional elections 
in 2024 and nationwide elections for Italy's representatives to the European 
parliament set for June.

   "Meloni and Biden both for different reasons seem to be in difficulty so 
this meeting can show the public opinion that there's a solid relationship with 
allies that are considered important,'' said Gianluca Pastori, an analyst at 
the ISPI think tank in Milan.

   Meloni's visit to Washington comes after she traveled to Kyiv last week to 
host a Group of Seven leaders meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr 
Zelenskyy on the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Leaders of 
Belgium, Canada and the EU Commission joined Meloni in Kyiv, and Biden and 
other leaders joined by video. Italy assumed its one-year presidency of the G7 
in January.

   During her recent visit to Kyiv, Meloni reaffirmed Italian support for 
Ukraine and signed a security cooperation agreement for military and technical 
assistance through the end of the year. Italy is also committed to helping 
Ukraine reconstruct historical monuments.

   There was trepidation in the Biden administration when Meloni rose to power 
as the head of Italy's first far-right-led government since the end of World 
War II. But the two have found common ground over the cause of Ukraine, and 
Biden heaped praise on Meloni and Italy for its efforts to back Kyiv when she 
visited Washington in July.

   The leaders' agenda also is expected to cover efforts by the U.S., Egypt and 
Qatar to broker an extended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and Italy's 
priorities for a G7 presidency.

   Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a cease-fire deal 
could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective 
deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large 
crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City, 
according to witnesses. More than 100 people were killed.

   Meloni reacted with "dismay and concern" to the incident.

   "It is urgent for Israel to ascertain the dynamics of the events and who is 
responsible," said Meloni, who called for intensified negotiations to reach a 
cease-fire and for the release of the hostages.

   Meloni is set to travel to Canada to meet on Saturday with Prime Minister 
Justin Trudeau.

 
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