French, Italian leaders to meet amid migrant ship row
A meeting between French and Italian leaders will go ahead on Friday despite tension after Paris criticized Rome for denying entry to a rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants, the Elysee Palace said on Thursday.
The NGO ship called Aquarius rescued around 230 migrants on Saturday, and more than 400 were transferred to the ship by Italian military and merchant ships in the area.
The ship was originally set to dock in Italy, but Italy's newly formed government turned it away. French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the move on Tuesday, saying Rome had acted cynically and irresponsibly.
Macron's comments triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries and jeopardized the planned meeting.
Speaking on the telephone on Wednesday evening, Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said they would meet in Paris for a working lunch on Friday as planned.
"The French president emphasized that he never said anything meant to offend Italy or the Italian people," Macron's office said in a statement Thursday.
Conte's office also issued a statement echoing the French account and confirming the meeting.
"Macron and Conte agreed that with the end-June European Union summit looming, it is necessary that new initiatives are discussed together," it said.
As well as summoning France's ambassador on Wednesday, Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria cancelled a meeting with his counterpart in Paris, and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Italy had "nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity."
Salvani, who is also deputy premier and leader of the anti-immigrant League Party, called on Macron to apologize and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.
"We must never give in to emotions, which some people manipulate," Macron told reporters while visiting western France on Wednesday.