WASHINGTON – Bush and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi (search) are meeting in Washington next week, just days after the Italian leader was acquitted of corruption charges.
Bush and Berlusconi have forged close ties, built mostly around his contribution of Italian troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq despite wide public opposition at home to the war.
The two leaders meet Dec. 15 in the Oval Office, followed by lunch, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday.
"The president and the prime minister share a strong commitment to the value of freedom, and Italy is making vital contributions to democracy and stability in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere," he said. "President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi will use this opportunity to discuss how the United States and Europe can work more closely together on the many common challenges we face."
Berlusconi, whose media empire has made him Italy's richest man, was accused of bribing judges. Prosecutors asked that he be imprisoned for eight years if convicted. A Milan court acquitted Berlusconi on Friday, ending a nearly five-year-old trial.
Berlusconi had maintained his innocence and said he is the target of leftist prosecutors.