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U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake hands at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump praised Italy's increasingly hard-line approach to immigration on Monday, at the start of a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House.

"I agree very much with what you are doing with respect to migration, and illegal immigration, and even legal immigration," Trump told Conte in the Oval Office. "He has taken a very firm stance on the border, a stance that few countries have taken. And frankly he is doing the right thing in my opinion."

Conte took office last month promising to bring radical change to Italy, including more generous welfare provision and a crackdown on immigration.

Immigration was a major election issue after an influx of hundreds of thousands of mostly African asylum seekers. Italy has seen more than 650,000 migrants reach its shores since 2014.

Conte has said his government would end "the immigration business."

The new Italian government is looking to limit the number of migrants it lets into the country and has shut its ports to humanitarian rescue ships, saying it is bearing an unfair burden within the European Union for dealing with asylum seekers.

(Reporting by James Oliphant, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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Reuters