ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni arrived Sunday in Algeria for a low-key two-day visit as the two nations look to build up a strategic partnership and Italy works to further wean itself off Russian energy with help from the gas-rich North African country.
Algeria's state television announced Meloni's arrival with neither photos nor fanfare.
She was greeted by Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane. Like all ranking visitors, Meloni's first stop was laying a wreath at the Monument of Martyrs. The monument on a hilltop overlooking the capital commemorates Algerians who died winning the country's independence from France in 1962.
The Italian leader also planned to visit an Italian naval ship at the port of Algiers.
Algeria has replaced Russia as Italy's No. 1 energy supplier, and Rome is looking to boost that partnership. However, topics such as naval construction, cars and start-ups were said to be on Meloni's agenda, a sign the two countries might deeper their cooperation.
Meloni is scheduled to meet Monday with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. The two last met in November on the sidelines of a climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town. A raft of agreements are then to be signed. It was unclear whether another energy deal was in the offing.
Russia's war in Ukraine, which upset global strategic and economic dynamics, gave a new and urgent dimension to ties between Algiers and Italy, long dependent on Russian energy. Other European Union nations also have scrambled to find sources of replacement for Russian energy.
Italy and Algeria want to build on then-Premier Mario Draghi’s successful initiatives last year to boost Algerian energy supplies to Italy and, an Algerian diplomat said, “push beyond that.”
“We want Italy to become a European hub for Algerian gas. A junction for other EU countries,” Algeria’s ambassador to Rome, Abdelkrim Touahria, said in an interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero, published Saturday.
An initial deal last year concluded by Draghi added 9 billion cubic meters of gas by 2023-2024 to be sent via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline. Months later, in July, a $4 billion agreement between the companies Eni, the Italian energy company, Occidental and Total was concluded.
Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi was to be among those in the Italian delegation accompanying Meloni
Meloni's visit to Algiers is the third in less than a year by an Italian premier, but considerably more low-key than that of her predecessor. Algeria's official APS news agency described it as “an opportunity to strengthen the Algiers-Rome axis" and another step “to consolidate the building of a true strategic partnership.”
Touahria, Algiers' ambassador in Rome, said that Italy’s Eni and the Algerian oil company Sonatrach are also looking together to the future with projects like oil and gas exploration in the south Sahara.
Meloni’s far-right-led coalition won a September national election, and it was likely that immigration and migrant issues, dear to the European far right, would also be a discussion item during her trip.
Italy is a magnet for migrants escaping poverty, war and other woes in their home countries, and North Africans, often from Tunisia and Algeria, are among them.
Italian consular officials in Rome regularly try to identify illegal migrants thought to be Algerian held in Sardinia and southern Italy, the official Algerian news agency APS quoted Touahria as saying.