US President Barack Obama consulted with Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano Friday on the implications of his country's looming elections.
Napolitano, who is retiring, said before the talks in the Oval Office that the "remarkable" progress made in Italy over the last 14 months must continue after the election on February 24 and 25.
Obama described his visitor, who plays a largely ceremonial role but has been an important player during Italian elections, as an "extraordinary" leader not only in Italy but on the wider European stage.
"I'll be interested in hearing from him how he anticipates the elections and government formation in Italy and what implications that has for the larger European project," Obama said.
Napolitano said that Italy, which is reeling from a major debt crisis, must continue to make progress "because Italy needs it, Europe needs it, and I think the world as a whole needs it."
Opinion polls showing former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is running in his sixth election campaign, narrowing the gap between his center-right party the center-left ahead of the February 24-25 vote.
Three-time premier Berlusconi, 76, has based his campaign on attacking the EU,the single currency and Germany's role in the 27-member bloc.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti has warned that the European Union fears Berlusconi's return because it is worried about a reprise of the days of missing financial discipline that could harm the eurozone.