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Obama meets departing Italian president

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February 15, 2013 01:19 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is greeting outgoing Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, hailing him as a friend and a "visionary" leader and taking the opportunity to thank Italy for its participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and contributions in Afghanistan.

Obama says Napolitano, who ends his seven years in office this spring, has helped guide and steer Europe toward greater unification. Among the topics Obama said the two men would discuss is Obama's plan to pursue U.S.-European Union free trade pact and the formation of a new government in Italy and its implications for Europe.

Napolitano said Italy, which has struggled to shore up its finances and emerge from recession, has made "remarkable progress" in the past 14 months. He says progress "must and will continue."