Tech & Rights

Trump & Gentiloni's Face to Face: What Conclusions Can We Draw?

Three months after the new American president took office, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni flew to Washington to meet him.

by Malika Bêche-Capelli
President Trump met with Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni on April 20.

Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni went to Washington to meet Donald Trump on April 20. The main items on the agenda were supposed to be the conduct of the war on terrorism and against ISIS, with a discussion of the Italian contribution in terms of collective security, military logistics assistance and on-the-ground cooperation.

But another important topic they discussed was the Mediterranean crisis, where Italy is the main actor in rescuing and welcoming people who attempt to cross the sea.

NATO and Italy’s commitments

This tense point arose from Trump’s desire to see the Italian Defense budget rise to 2 percent of the country’s GDP, and the American president reminded the prime minister that Italy is giving less than expected.

When a journalist asked Gentiloni about whether Italy would give 2 percent of its GDP for NATO defense spending, a question that pleased Trump, the Italian PM responded that “the commitments ha[d] been made” to meet the target and that Italy is “used to respecting [its] commitments,” but he didn’t give a concrete answer about the ends and means of such commitments.

Indeed, Italy has already increased its defense spending from 1.2 to 1.4 percent of GDP, which represents 23.4 billions euros earmarked for NATO in 2017.

On-the-ground military engagements

Even though President Trump praised the Italian army’s efforts and engagements on the ground, fighting against ISIS and terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, his answer to Gentiloni’s request for an American military engagement in Libya was negative.

"I do not see a role in Libya," Trump said. "We have enough roles, we have roles everywhere."

The Mediterranean crisis

Trump once again praised Italy's actions to help those who left Libya in an attempt to cross the sea in tiny boats and make it to Europe.

Lauding the help and aid provided, Trump nevertheless urged Gentiloni to increase the number of repatriations to home countries through a policy that "seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so they can help rebuild their own nations."

The president did not seem concerned about the threat of death that awaits many of these people in their home countries.

The shadow of terrorism

Taking place at 3pm Washington time, the meeting between the two heads of state was shortened by the announcement, shortly after 9pm in Paris, of the shooting on the Champs-Elysées in the French capital, killing both a policeman on duty and the assailant, and hurting another police officer and as well as a woman passing by.

This announcement surely overshadowed the face to face, and helped move the focus from international help for migrants to defense and anti-terrorism.

Gentiloni continued his trip in North America, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on that Friday night, but the discussions with Trump are not over, as he is expected next month in Italy, as are German, French, British, Canadian, Japanese and Italian representatives, all of whom will descend on Taormina, Sicily, for the 2017 G7 on May 26-27.