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Trump takes friendlier stance on EU as Italy's PM visits

President Trump said a "strong Europe" was good for the US, appearing to walk back earlier comments about the EU as a whole. In meeting with Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni, Trump pushed Rome for more trade with the US.

USA | Trump empfängt Italiens Ministerpräsident Paolo Gentiloni (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

US President Donald Trump appeared to soften his tone towards Europe in a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Thursday.

The president said that a solid Europe was "very important" to him - a far cry from the campaign trail, when he hailed Brexit and called the EU a "vehicle for Germany."

"A strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the United States. And it's also, in my opinion - in my very strong opinion, important for the United States," Trump said at a joint press conference with Gentiloni. "We want to see it. We will help it be strong, and it's very much to everybody's advantage."

Trump further praised Italy as a "key partner" in the fight against the so-called "Islamic State's" (IS) terrorism, but made it clear that the US would not send ground troops to stabilize conflict-ridden Libya, though Gentiloni pointed out that the chaos there had aided the spread of IS influence in the region.

Trump seeks end to trade deficits

The president took the opportunity to return to one of his common themes, pushing NATO allies to meet their financial pledges for military spending. Noting the 30,000 US soldiers stationed in Italy, Trump said that Italians should "pay their full and fair share for the cost of defense."

Gentiloni said that while financial constraints prevented Rome from paying the promised two percent of GDP, the prime minister assured Trump that "our commitment to common defense is very clear."

Despite calling NATO "obsolete," before he took office, the US leader has appeared to walk that view back in recent months, provided allies step up their monetary contributions.

He also spoke of the trade deficit between the US and Italy, with Rome lagging behind some 28 billion dollars in terms of mutual investment.

"We both seek a trading relationship that is balanced, reciprocal," said Trump, who has been outspoken against deficits, which he sees as the US propping up other economies without getting enough in return. "I love the word 'reciprocal,' because we don't have too many reciprocal trading partnerships, I will tell you that, but we will very soon," he added.

Trump and Gentiloni will meet again twice next month in the president's first trip to Europe while in office. First at a NATO leaders summit in Brussels, followed by a G7 meeting in Sicily from May 26-27.

es/rc (AFP, dpa)

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