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Italian leader urges Ukraine ceasefire in visit with Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Italian Premier Mario Draghi met in the Oval Office on Tuesday for a visit intended to showcase allied unity against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it also provided a window into divergent approaches to the conflict.

Draghi said leaders should work toward “the possibility of bringing a ceasefire and starting, again, some credible negotiations.” He added that ”in Italy and Europe now, people want to put an end to these massacres and this violence, this butchery.”

Biden did not echo Draghi’s comments, and U.S. officials appear openly skeptical that there’s a way to restart talks at this point.

Avril Haines, Biden’s director of national intelligence, testified earlier Tuesday that both Ukraine and Russia believe they can make progress on the battlefield at this point, so “we do not see a viable negotiating path forward, at least in the short term.”

She also said Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared for a “prolonged conflict.”

The different tones over Ukraine reflect Italy’s geographic proximity to the war and deeper economic ties to Russia, which provides 40% of the country’s natural gas. There’s also growing skepticism in Italy about sending weapons to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been ramping up its military assistance for Ukraine with bipartisan support from Congress, and administration officials have used more aggressive rhetoric when talking about the war. For example, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently said the U.S. wants “to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

Biden and Draghi still emphasized their two countries’ deep ties and their work on Ukraine.

“You’ve been a good friend and a great ally,” Biden said, adding that the allies had “all stepped up” to confront Russia.

Draghi responded by saying, “The ties between our two countries will always be strong. And if anything, this war in Ukraine has made them stronger.”

Echoing comments that Biden has often made, Draghi added that Putin “thought he could divide us. He failed.”

Ali Wyne, a senior analyst with the Eurasia Group, said “shock-induced unity can be difficult to sustain” as the war continues.

“Geography means that the escalation of tensions between NATO and Russia poses a more immediate threat to Europe’s security than to America’s — and means, therefore, that de-escalation is a more pressing imperative for Brussels,” he said. “In addition, the more pronounced the externalities of the war become, including energy disruptions and food insecurity, the more pressure the American public and European publics are likely to place on their leaders to make a renewed push for a negotiated settlement.”

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Associated Press staff writers Colleen Barry in Milan and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

By CHRIS MEGERIAN
Associated Press

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