Italy is a Reliable Ally in Support of Ukraine. Silk Road? It Didn’t Work

Interview published by Corriere della Sera
October 4, 2023

by Giuseppe Sarcina

ROME – For the US administration, Giorgia Meloni “passed the pudding test.” A year ago, the victory of the center-right in Italy caused concern, if not fear, even in the White House. Today, the new U.S. ambassador to Italy, Jack Markell, notes that “the facts have shown” that relations between Washington and Rome have remained “strong.” In short, the Americans have “gotten a taste” of the new Italian government and are satisfied.

Ambassador Markell welcomes us at his residence, Villa Taverna, for the first interview with a newspaper since he took office on August 26, 2023. He spends a few minutes on a more personal conversation. He is 62 years old, a lifelong member of the Democratic Party. He was born in the same state as Joe Biden, Delaware, where he was governor from 2009 to 2017. He says he met his wife, Carla, “in kindergarten.” “We came from families that were definitely not wealthy. We did everything together, except for one thing–during one of many election campaigns, she took our two children and escaped to Italy for a short time.”

Q. – Elections in Slovakia rewarded a leader, Robert Fico, who opposed sending more military aid to Ukraine. In Washington, Congress re-funded the administration without sending a single dollar to Kyiv. What should we expect now?

A. – First, let me say that Italy and the United States share a very clear commitment to hold Putin and Russia accountable, to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. This is extraordinarily important because if Putin were to succeed, he and other leaders would be emboldened to act in violation of the basic charter of the United Nations and thus to occupy the territory of other states without any rights. I would put the case of Slovakia in this context: it has so far been an important NATO ally, and we believe that we will continue to work together. But when we think about Slovakia or other countries, we have to remember that President Biden has put together a very strong coalition. And he has just said that we will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes. And the majority of members of Congress, including the Democratic and Republican leadership, said the same thing. The president was very clear, and I couldn’t say it better than your foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, did the other day in Kyiv: “There can be no peace without justice.”

Q. – You are happy with the relationship with the Italian government. But a year ago, Giorgia Meloni’s victory caused alarm in Washington. What has changed?

A – Well, there was what we call in the United States “proof in the pudding.” Prime Minister Meloni has just had a very successful visit to the Oval Office. Our relationship with Italy has always been extraordinarily strong. Perhaps because there are 18 million people of Italian descent living in the United States. And 6 million Americans visit your country every year. Italy has once again proven itself to be a “reliable ally.” And certainly Giorgia Meloni has proven to be a solid rock in support of Ukraine.

Q. – The Italian government is reportedly ready to pull out of the BRI, the economic trade agreement with China. Why does the United States consider relations with Beijing so dangerous?

A. – It will be up to Italy to decide what to do with this memorandum. All I can say is that figures show that it has not worked at all. On the contrary, other European countries have seen a greater increase in trade with Beijing. As for us, I note that even in the U.S. National Security Strategy there are areas where we need to cooperate with China. From climate change to pandemics. Problems that no one can solve alone. Then there are areas where we are more competitive. Finally, I think many European countries and the U.S. agree on the need to diversify some strategic supply chains. So I don’t see a big difference in the approach to China between us and the EU.

Q. – Italy has been calling for more U.S. involvement in the Mediterranean for years. For example, to help stabilize Libya and lend a hand to Tunisia in its efforts to stem the flow of migrants.

A. – The United States understands very well the immigration challenge that Italy faces. We have it on our southern border as well. In fact, we are in constant consultation with your government on both Libya and Tunisia. We are both seeking a way to resolve the crisis in Libya. And we have taken note and have been favorably impressed by the energy that Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is putting into engaging the North African countries and convincing the rest of Europe that the issue of immigration cannot fall on the shoulders of one country.