U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Rome on Saturday, a stopover before he takes part in the Group of 20 summit in France next week where leaders will discuss how to put out fires from the global financial crisis and avert a major recession.
Biden was to meet with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano, who is hosting the Group of Eight summit next month.
There will be a rare opportunity for small group talks among world leaders at next week’s gathering in the southern French resort town of Cannes, during which global finance issues will take center stage at what is largely seen as a crisis summit.
The White House said earlier the U.S., which holds the rotating G20 presidency for this year, was considering inviting Vladimir Putin to Cannes if he wins Russia’s presidential election on Sunday, an event that some analysts are already calling questionable because of widespread public protests against him.
Biden is also expected to have talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose nation is facing the possibility of a new showdown with Iran over its nuclear program. It is unclear whether Biden will be able to make progress on efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
Netanyahu and President Barack Obama’s first face-to-face meeting in March was frosty and statements released by the White House and Netanyahu’s office after it ended suggested there was little sign of progress.
The United States has been working with Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union’s executive Commission to craft a new package of sanctions against Iran that would build on steps already taken in response to Tehran’s nuclear program.
Biden’s advisers said he would use his meetings in Italy to press the leaders on the need to take firm measures over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes only.
The Obama administration has not given any guarantees that it will be able to convince Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, to sign on to new sanctions if they are introduced with the European Union.
Biden met in London earlier this month with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for talks that Israeli officials said were intended, in part, to bolster their chances of winning Russia’s support for stronger measures against Iran.
On the sidelines of the G8 summit, Biden is also expected to discuss Afghanistan where nearly 70,000 U.S. troops are part of a NATO-led force fighting a Taliban insurgency.
But it will be the current financial crisis that is foremost on his agenda in Italy and France where leaders will meet amid fears of a new global recession and concerns that Europe’s common currency, the euro , might collapse.
Italy is confronting a banking crisis and soaring borrowing costs amid fears of a Greek default and contagion from other troubled eurozone economies such as Portugal and Spain.