WASHINGTON – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi received a warm welcome from Congress on Wednesday during a speech emphasizing the need for Italy and the U.S. to stand firm in the fight against terrorism.
Berlusconi's address to Congress came after his meeting Tuesday with President Bush. The Italian leader faces a tough re-election campaign at home, and his U.S. trip is seen as an attempt to parlay into votes his closeness to Bush, even as his main rival tries to score political points by attacking U.S. policies.
Berlusconi spoke first in Italian, with lawmakers reading a translated copy of his remarks, then briefly in English. He was interrupted several times by loud applause and, at the end of his speech, a long standing ovation.
The premier is trailing center-left candidate Romano Prodi in polls for April elections. Prodi opposed sending Italian troops to Iraq. Berlusconi, who sent troops to Iraq is withdrawing 3,000 troops by the end of the year, a decision made after U.S. soldiers at a Baghdad checkpoint killed an Italian government agent as he escorted a rescued hostage to the airport.
"It is only by joining the efforts of all the democracies on all continents that we will be able to free the world from the threat of international terrorism, from the fear of aggression by the forces of evil," Berlusconi told the joint session of Congress.
Berlusconi said he has worked hard to make sure Europe and the United States remain strong allies, even as public opinion turns against the war in Iraq.
"We cannot ignore the danger that a united Europe might seek to define its identity in contrast to America," Berlusconi said. "The necessary political and institutional integration of Europe must not mean the creation of a 'Fortress Europe,' closed to the rest of the world."