Donald Trump is expected to speak by phone Saturday with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the second consecutive weekend the U.S. president will converse with world leaders.
The conversation with Italy’s prime minister comes one day after a European Union summit in Malta where leaders discussed the future of the European bloc. Gentiloni and the other EU leaders promised to remain defiant of Trump, whose criticism of the union is thought by some to threaten the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance. Summit participants discussed ideas that will be included in a declaration on the EU’s future when bloc leaders will gather in March in Italy’s capital to observe the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community, the precursor of the EU.
Gentiloni said Friday he saw a “great opportunity” for the EU if the Trump administration focuses primarily on domestic issues, giving Europe the chance to establish the “number one trade superpower in the world.”
The EU leaders also embraced a plan to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The plan was approved after an agreement was reached on the eve of a summit between Italy and Libya. Its success is largely dependent on Europe’s ability to help Libya stop more migrants from crossing into Libya’s southern desert and preventing smugglers from sending migrants from the poorly patrolled Mediterranean coast toward Europe.
Trump’s first post-inauguration call with Ukrainian President Poroshenko comes amid a surge in fighting in the eastern Ukraine war zone between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed insurgents. Dozens of people have been killed in the past week as the level of violence escalated to levels not seen since 2015.
Poroshenko has argued that the outburst is a reason to continue Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its actions against Ukraine. Trump’s repeated promises to strengthen relations with Russia have stoked Ukrainian concerns the U.S. could drop some sanctions.
Earlier this week, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, and said U.S. sanctions would remain in place.