Obama, Italian PM Letta meet in Oval Office

Oct. 17, 2013 at 3:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama met with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta Thursday in the Oval Office, where they discussed trade, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya.

While the president did not bring up the just-ended 16-day U.S. government shutdown, Letta, who has dealt with Italy's economic crises and political disfunction, congratulated him on "yesterday's success" that resulted in short term funding of the federal government until January.

"Because yesterday's decision was very important for the stability of the markets in the world, in Europe ... we need stability because we have such a big debt, so we need to have low interest rates," Letta said during the meeting that was joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.

Speaking in English, Letta indicated he plans to push a growth agenda when Italy assumes the rotating presidency of the European Council next year saying he hoped to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty with the United States "before the end of next year."

Obama congratulated Letta for winning a vote of confidence in the Italian Parliament and for his efforts to stabilize Italy's finances.

The leaders discussed trade and international issues including the civil war in Syria and conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya.

"With respect to Syria, we have been pleased to see not only the U.N. resolution, but also now the concrete efforts to get chemical weapons out of Syria. And Italy has been very supportive of that effort," Obama said.

Letta, who is from Pisa, invited the president and first lady to revisit Tuscany.

The couple's last trip to Italy was before Obama was elected president.

More than 5 million U.S. tourists visit Italy each year and the United States is Italy's third-largest export market, $35.5 billion in 2012.

"He will not have to twist my arm to come to Tuscany again sometime in the near future," Obama said, although he said he couldn't stay as long as he wanted if they made the trip before he leaves office.

Obama and Letta were joined by Vice President Joe Biden for lunch.

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