Washington DC, October 19 - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is set to speak at Johns Hopkins University Wednesday at 16:00 Italian time, on what is his last day of an official visit to the American capital. An hour later, the premier is scheduled to visit Arlington National Cemetery where the dead of American military conflicts have been buried, beginning with the American Civil War. Renzi met with United States President Barack Obama, followed by a joint press conference and a state dinner at the White House on Tuesday. In a toast to the presidential couple, Renzi compared Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to Renaissance masters working to improve the world. "I've been a fan of Obama's ever since his first speech in Illinois in 2007," Renzi said. "Having listened to Michelle's speeches during the (2016 presidential) campaign, I have found someone on the same level. "I think your speeches are even better than your tomatoes," he quipped, turning to the American first lady, who yesterday gave her Italian counterpart, Agnese Landini, a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden she planted in the spring of 2009 with the help of local elementary schoolchildren. Italy and the US "share food and wine at the table, much as they share the same values," Renzi said at the gala dinner for 400 by American celebrity chef Mario Batali, followed by a performance by pop star Gwen Stefani. Earlier on Tuesday, Obama threw his hat in the ring in favor of a 'Yes' vote in a December 4 referendum on Renzi's hotly debated constitutional reform law. A 'Yes' victory could help Italy, Obama told reporters at a press conference after meeting with Renzi at the White House. The American president added he is "rooting for" Renzi, and said Italy's young reformist premier should remain in politics no matter what the outcome of the referendum. The two leaders heaped praise upon one another, with Obama hailing Renzi's leadership qualities and Renzi calling the US a model of economic growth policies. "Matteo represents a new generation of leaders not only in Italy but in the EU and the world," said Obama, warning that if Europe fails to shift away from austerity towards more expansive economic policies its fragility will return with negative impacts on the U.S. and the globe. "The US are a model and I think Europe can and must do more," Renzi said. "Italy considers the American example as a point of reference in the battle (against austerity)". "If we win the December referendum it will be easier for Italy to carry on the battle to change the EU," he explained. "If we win... things will be more simple for Italy, and the battle to change Europe will be easier," Renzi said. "We respect European rules, albeit a bit unwillingly at times - we would like them to be different, but we will respect them until they change". "I don't think there will be any cataclysms if the 'No' vote wins," he added. Obama chimed in, saying "Matteo is right" in stating Italy has kept its word in the EU and carried out structural reforms as requested, and now Europe must do its part to stoke growth and create jobs faster than it is at present. On the international front, Obama thanked Italy for its "key role" in the international coalition to fight the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group and for its diplomacy in Libya. The American president also said "our thoughts are with" the stricken population of the town of Amatrice, which was razed to the ground by a devastating August 24 earthquake in central Italy that claimed 298 lives, left thousands homeless, and caused billions in damage. As well, Obama hailed Italy for saving "hundreds of thousands of lives" in the Mediterranean, where its southernmost islands are the first landfall for asylum seekers fleeing wars and persecution in Africa and the Middle East. Italy is haggling with the EU for flexibility on its 2017 budget due to exceptional spending on quake relief and reconstruction as well as the cost of asylum seeker rescue, identification, processing, and hosting.
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