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Italian leader, coalition partner clash on military spending

Italian leader, coalition partner clash on military spending

MILAN (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi has met with Italy’s president after a key party in Italy's governing coalition has put in question its support for Italy’s commitment to raise its military spending in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A government official confirmed the meeting Tuesday evening, after Draghi met privately with the head of the 5-Star Movement, former Premier Giuseppe Conte, who reportedly has balked at Italy’s intention to raise military spending to 2% of GDP in line with other NATO members.

Draghi’s message to Conte was that it would be difficult to sustain the coalition agreement for the current government if the 5-Star movement, the largest party in Parliament, puts into question international commitments, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. The official noted that while Conte was premier, Italy increased its military spending 17%, from 21 billion euros to 24.6 billion euros.

Conte told reporters that he did not want to put the government at risk but added ‘’we are the largest party and we have a right to be heard.’’

The contents of Draghi’s meeting with Mattarella were not immediately disclosed. Mattarella, as head of state, has the role of guarantor of Italy’s stability, and is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Separately, Conte was summoned last week by a parliamentary committee that deals with intelligence matters over growing concerns that a Russian military and medical team sent to help Italy early in the pandemic, when he was premier, was engaged in espionage. The proceedings were held behind closed doors.

The coalition agreement for Conte’s first government in 2018 both confirmed Italy’s place in the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance, while also calling for closer economic ties with Russia and the withdrawal of sanctions imposed for its occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. A key ally in that government, right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has boasted close ties with Russia.