Italy's Salvini Says Ready to Talk to Ease France Spat


Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Monday he was ready to meet his French counterpart "this week" for talks following a spat which saw France recalling its ambassador from Rome.

Ties between the two neighbors sunk to their lowest point since World War II last week after Paris recalled its envoy in protest over a string of jibes by Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, both senior figures in Italy's populist government. 

On Friday, Salvini said he invited his French counterpart Christophe Castaner to Rome for talks, but in an unguarded moment later said he was going "to summon him" -- prompting a dry rebuttal by the French minister.

On Monday, he tried again. 

"I am ready to welcome him in Rome or to go to Paris, even this week," he said. 

"I think that restoring good relations is fundamental, the earlier the better."

The escalating war of words began last year after Di Maio's Five Star Movement and Salvini's far-right League won elections and formed a populist and euroskeptic government.

When Italy began barring migrant boats from docking at its ports, French President Emmanuel Macron blasted Rome's "cynicism and irresponsibility", comparing the rise of far-right nationalism to leprosy, prompting a string of tit-for-tat insults. 

Ahead of the European Parliament elections in May, Salvini and Di Maio -- both of whom are deputy prime ministers -- have made a series of increasingly personal attacks on Macron.

But the diplomatic straw that broke the camel's back was Di Maio's meeting last Tuesday with the "yellow vest" protesters who have staged months of anti-government demonstrations across France, many of which have turned violent. 

Two days later, France recalled its ambassador, sparking the biggest crisis between the two founding members of the European Union since the war ended in 1945.