WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed Italy's contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its efforts seeking stability in Libya, but dismissed the possibility of U.S. intervention in that country, saying the U.S. has "enough roles."
After a White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Trump stuck to his demand that European allies meet their financial obligations in their partnerships with the U.S., including NATO. He urged Italy to address the refugee crisis through a policy that "seeks the eventual return of refugees to their home countries so they can help to rebuild their own nations."
Gentiloni, who took office in December, stressed the need for burden-sharing in the refugee crisis, given Italy's proximity to Libya, where large numbers of migrants take the risky voyage across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Trump was quick to dismiss the notion that the U.S. would get involved in Libya, telling a joint news conference, "I do not see a role in Libya."
"We have enough roles. We have a role everywhere," Trump said.
Gentiloni noted Italy and America's "common commitment against terrorism." He said it requires social and economic collaboration with Muslim communities to be effective.
He said that despite budgetary limitations, Italy was committed to increase its defense spending from 1 percent of gross domestic product to 2 percent – the threshold that Trump has called for all NATO members to adhere to. Trump has complained that the United States contributes more to the military alliance than it receives.
"We are used to respecting our commitments," Gentiloni said.
Trump plans to attend a NATO meeting in Belgium next month before attending a summit of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations. Italy will host the summit, and Gentiloni can shape the agenda on behalf of European leaders wary of Trump's position on some long-standing agreements.
Trump has already pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact with 11 Asian and Pacific nations he said was "a disaster." This week he said he would make "some very big changes" to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico or "we are going to get rid of NAFTA for once and for all."
Gentiloni has been strongly critical of protectionist trade policies shielding a country's domestic industries from foreign competition by taxing imports. Italy has suffered sluggish economic growth and was a staunch backer of a proposed U.S.-European free trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.
Trump favors bilateral trade deals and has used trade as a tool for pressuring countries to do more on national security matters. That was evident most recently with his public statements promising China a "better" trade arrangement if Beijing cracks down on North Korea.
Thursday's U.S.-Italy meeting took place against a backdrop of high uncertainty in Europe, following Britain's decision to leave the European Union and the upcoming French presidential election – the first round of voting is Sunday.
Like Trump, anti-establishment French populist Marine Le Pen hopes for an electoral boost by seizing on voter disenchantment with politics as usual. The EU has been a constant target, and Le Pen has called for a referendum similar to last year's Brexit vote.