The visit comes a month before Trump is scheduled to travel to Italy
Italy has been on the front lines of a migrant crisis
President Donald Trump on Thursday said he does not believe the US should continue to play a role in stabilizing Libya, where violence and political instability has reigned since the overthrow of the country’s dictator.
“I do not see a (US) role in Libya,” Trump said during a joint news conference Thursday, moments after Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called the US role in the country “critical.”
“I think the United States has right now enough roles,” Trump said.
Trump was not wearing the earpiece that would have provided him with English translation when the Gentiloni in Italian characterized the US’ role in Libya as “critical.”
The US played a key role in the NATO bombing campaign that helped rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan leader, in 2011. Islamist extremist groups including ISIS have since gained a foothold in Libya as warring rebel factions continue to dispute governmental authority, and the US has carried out airstrikes against ISIS strongholds there.
Trump said he does “see a role in getting rid of ISIS,” though it was unclear whether he believes that role should extend to Libya.
Trump’s comments could signal a major shift in US foreign policy since the administration of President Barack Obama, which tried to foster a diplomatic resolution to the conflict between warring rebel factions.
Trump’s comments on Libya likely came as a surprise to the Italian prime minister, who moments earlier stressed the need for international diplomacy to bolster the country’s government based in the Libyan city of Tripoli and said the two men discussed stabilizing Libya.
“I believe that one clear goal should be this: We need the region and we need countries like Egypt and Tunisia that are close to Libya, we need a stable and unified Libya. A divided country in conflict would make stability worse,” Gentiloni said. “The US role in this is critical.”
Trump welcomed Gentiloni to the White House on Thursday for the first meeting between the two leaders and said he looked forward to traveling to Sicily next month for the first G-7 summit of his presidency, where leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies will meet for rounds of powerhouse diplomacy.
In opening remarks, Trump recognized Italy as a key trading partner and ally in the fight against terrorism.
Trump noted Italy’s military contributions to the fight against ISIS and the war in Afghanistan and said the two countries could partner to address “large-scale migration and international smuggling.”
“Strong borders is a vital component,” Trump said while alongside Gentiloni, whose country has been one of the most affected by the migrant crisis that has roiled Europe.
Trump and Gentiloni took questions from reporters following a brief Oval Office meeting and bilateral meeting between the two leaders and their respective delegations.
The two leaders also took to their podiums as reports surfaced of an attack that killed one police officer and wounded another in Paris.
Trump expressed “our condolences from our country to the people of France.”
“Again it’s happening it seems,” Trump said. “It looks like another terrorist attack.”
As of Trump’s comments, French authorities had not concluded whether the attack in Paris was terrorism-related.
Trump’s meeting with the third-largest Eurozone economy included economic and trade discussions as well as security issues.
Italy has been on the front lines of a migrant crisis that has stretched financial resources and wrought political turmoil across the European Union as millions of asylum-seekers and migrants have sought refuge in Europe.
Trump has repeatedly sought to draw connections between the uptick in the flow of refugees in Europe and the spate of terrorist attacks that have taken place in recent years, even when the culprits for those attacks were European-born. And while Europe has sought solutions to accommodate the uptick in refugees, Trump has sought to close the US’ borders to refugees, particularly those from Syria, arguing that they could be a “Trojan horse.”
Italy is also a member of the NATO military alliance and a partner in the US-led anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria – a fight that Trump has sought to ramp up in his quest to destroy the terrorist group, as he promised on the campaign trail.