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Salvini in Washington to stress Italy's closeness to Trump administration

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Mr Salvini, whose powerful League party did well in last month's European Parliament elections, met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was due to meet later with Vice-President Mike Pence in the White House.

[WASHINGTON] Matteo Salvini, the far-right Italian deputy prime minister, spoke during a visit to Washington on Monday of his "closeness" to President Donald Trump's administration.

Mr Salvini, whose powerful League party did well in last month's European Parliament elections, met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was due to meet later with Vice-President Mike Pence in the White House.

Mr Salvini, whose party is often at odds with their coalition partners, the Five Star Movement, played down 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."

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Like Mr 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 

Mr Salvini also distanced himself from Italy's signing of an accord that saw it become the first G-7 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.

He also 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 during a press briefing.

As for the European Union, which Mr Trump has often targeted, Mr 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.

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

Mr Salvini said he had persuaded Mr 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."

AFP