By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, March 28 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama praised new Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, applauded his early efforts to guide his country out of its long economic malaise and, according to analysts, perhaps giving him new cache he can use to do the job more effectively.
Obama and Renzi met during a 36-hour stop for the American leader in Italy's capital, and in a joint press conference lasting nearly an hour he was not shy heaping praise on the 39-year-old Renzi, who leapt from being a party secretary and mayor of a mid-sized city to become prime minister only five weeks ago.
Obama expressed admiration for what he called Renzi's "energy, vision, and ambition of ideas," and he said the work Renzi was doing would be felt far beyond Italy's borders.
"I think the spirit and energy of the Italian people will have the opportunity to be unleashed in a way that will be good for Italy and also good for Europe," Obama said. "It is wonderful to see a new generation of leadership coming to the force."
According to analysts, the meeting with Obama could pay dividends for Renzi in the way the other meetings did not.
"Renzi's position is clearly improved by showing he is 'buddies' with a high profile leader like Obama," said James Walston, a political scientist with the American University of Rome and a frequent commentator on political issues. "When Renzi wants to talk about people about what happens beyond Italy, beyond Europe, the image of him with Obama will help."
Antonio Basso, an author and political consultant, agreed:
"Don't underestimate how important relationships are in the geopolitical world," he said. "It's especially important for a leader like Renzi, who is still relatively unknown outside Italy."
Obama noted that he had met Renzi once before, when the Tuscan leader went to Washington as part of a delegation of city mayors. He said he looked forward to welcoming him back for his first visit to the U.S. capital as a head of government.
Renzi appeared pleased to bask in Obama's compliments and in the informal nature of the press conference -- Obama even referred to Renzi by his first name at one point. But he also continued to promise strong action on domestic issues, as expected from his reputation as a hard-nosed reformer. Asked how the U.S. might help Italy emerge from a decade-long period of slow economic growth, he said the responsibility to chart a new course was Italy's alone.
"Italy has no alibi," Renzi said. "Italy cannot believe that its own problems and its own opportunities will come from outside, from Europe or from the United States. We have to make the changes ourselves."
Obama came to the meeting with Renzi from another set of talks with Giorgio Napolitano, Italy's president, who Obama called "a dear friend." He had praise for Napolitano as well, saying, "Italy should be honored to have such a great statesman representing it."