US President Barack Obama on Tuesday paid tribute to Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, saying that his programme of reforms was transforming Italy."He looks to people's hopes not their fears, Italy is changing the status quo thanks to his courageous reforms," Obama said in remarks welcoming Renzi to the White House for private talks and a state dinner."Good morning. Buongiorno," Obama said, greeting Renzi with a handshake and a pat on the back. Also present were First Lady Michelle Obama and Renzi's wife Agnese Landini."Today is the date of the final state dinner of my presidency. But that's okay. We kept the best till last," Obama added."I consider myself an honorary Italian," Obama said."America was built thanks to immigrants, it is great and strong thanks to immigrants."Obama further showed off his language skills, telling Renzi in Italian, "Solid friendships are built on clear pacts," in a reference to the special nature of the alliance between Washington and Rome.Taking the podium, Renzi returned Obama's compliments.
"We Italians love history and think that history will judge you well. Day after day, your leadership has built change and worked for peace," Renzi said."Our ties with your country has never been so strong, from the fight against terrorism to security and the creation of opportunities for all."Also in the Italian delegation was Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Ambassador to the US Armando Varricchio.In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica ahead of Renzi's visit, Obama praised his political "vision" and criticised European Union austerity rules that rein in national budgets."I believe the austerity measures have contributed to slowing growth in Europe," Obama told La Repubblica in the interview published on Tuesday.Obama's words were a boost for Renzi. His 2017 budget is expected to hike the fiscal deficit higher than targets previously agreed with the EU and he has staked his political future on an upcoming constitutional reform referendum in December.Renzi's reforms of the labour market, the public sector and education have failed to boost Italy's chronically sluggish growth and his popularity ratings have dropped over the past 18 months.