Italian foreign minister the first to visit Biden's Washington

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) receives Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio as his first visitor at the State Department

Italy on Monday became the first country to send its foreign minister for talks in President Joe Biden's Washington as in-person diplomacy stopped by the Covid-19 pandemic gradually resumes.

Receiving his first foreign counterpart at the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wore masks and did not shake hands on a visit meant to mark 160 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy.

Blinken said the two would speak about Afghanistan, Ukraine and Libya -- a special concern for Italy -- as well as pandemic and climate change.

"Mostly this is an opportunity to note this historic anniversary but especially to reaffirm our commitment to working together," Blinken said.

"Democracy and human rights is something else that has kept us together for many years. And, going forward, Italy's voice is critical on these issues as well."

Blinken's remarks, while brief, mark a new contrast from his predecessor Mike Pompeo who avoided so much as a word when going before the cameras with visitors at the State Department.

Di Maio will also meet top US pandemic scientist Anthony Fauci and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Italian-Americans, and join a tribute at the Capitol for a police officer killed in an attack earlier this month.

Biden has held off on the usual flurry of diplomacy at the start of a new administration as his team discouraged travel in an effort to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will on Friday become the first foreign leader to visit Biden at the White House, while Blinken this week will pay his second trip to Brussels.

sct/ec