ROME — Finally confirmed in office, Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini flies to Washington tonight for a Friday lunch with President Clinton--a repast of two would-be reformers grappling with parliamentary headaches and cloudy futures.
Dini, 63, won a vote of confidence Wednesday in the Italian Senate for a government of nonpolitical experts that he assembled Jan. 7.
It was not senators on the political right--Dini's side of the house--who backed him, though.
Most of them, like former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, stayed away, piqued because Dini will not set a date for new elections.
Centrists and leftists, including former Communists, approved Dini's government 191-17, with two abstentions in the 325-member Senate.
Dini, who had joined Berlusconi's short-lived government as treasury minister from the independent Bank of Italy, promises to enact a limited program of reforms and then to call elections. He will take "a few months," Dini told the Senate, to enact legislation that will attack a huge government deficit, overhaul a creaky pensions system, and enact antitrust and electoral reforms.
In Washington, an unnamed White House official told Reuters news agency that the White House invitation was "an expression of confidence in the new Italian government."
Dini, whose government is Italy's 54th since World War II, will cross the Atlantic for a meeting in Canada of ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries. He and Clinton will discuss economic and security issues, the official said.
Berlusconi, who resigned Dec. 22 after seven months as prime minister, said he and conservative allies will support Dini in Parliament on a case-by-case basis while continuing to press for early elections.
Named as the target of one corruption probe while in office, the Milan billionaire entrepreneur is now also the focus of an investigation for payoffs involving his A.C. Milan professional soccer team, Italian newspapers said Wednesday. Berlusconi denies any improprieties.
Berlusconi's younger brother and business associate, Paolo, and Salvatore Sciascia, an executive at Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company, are also targets of a new probe by magistrates in Milan, the newspapers said.
A three-year corruption probe inaugurated by magistrate Antonio Di Pietro has implicated about 3,000 business people and politicians in an endemic system of payoffs and kickbacks for public contracts.
Di Pietro resigned last December from the corruption inquiry.
On Tuesday, he got a long-awaited new job: chief consultant to the parliamentary commission investigating terrorism.
In pursuing his reforms, Dini must wade warily through the shallows of a divided, multi-hued Parliament.
"We're worried about the company Dini is keeping," said one Berlusconi supporter after the former Communists endorsed him Wednesday.
Dini was selected as Berlusconi's nonpolitical successor after weeks of bickering in which President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro could not unearth any political figure with the potential for majority parliamentary support.