- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

From combined dispatches

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi received a warm welcome from Congress yesterday during a speech emphasizing the need for Italy and the U.S. to stand firm in the fight against terrorism.

“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,” Mr. Berlusconi told the joint session of Congress.

Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Berlusconi, who has been supportive of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, 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.

Some Democrats chafed at the event.

These Democrats were slow to arrive or sent aides in their place, which a House Democratic aide attributed partly to irritation at being called to an event they viewed as a campaign booster for Mr. Berlusconi and his center-right coalition.

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 President Bush, even as his main rival tries to score political points by attacking U.S. policies. Mr. Berlusconi met Tuesday with Mr. Bush.

The prime minister is trailing center-left candidate Romano Prodi in polls for April elections. The two candidates disagree on a timetable for removing 3,000 Italian troops from Iraq. Mr. Berlusconi says they should leave in stages throughout the year; Mr. Prodi favors an immediate withdrawal.

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