Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is currently in the Maltese capital of Valetta, and has met with the President of the country, according to a report by Lovin Malta.
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, of the center-left Labour Party, met with the Senator briefly earlier today. The President then shared some photos of her meeting with Sen. Paul on Twitter, including a photo of him signing the visitor’s book in the presidential residence.
— Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (@MarieLouise_MT) August 21, 2017
This is not Sen. Paul’s first experience dealing with the Maltese. In May, he spoke at a reception hosted by the Maltese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., where he expressed his support for greater cooperation between the two countries and announced his decision to visit later that year.
The trip is notable as Sen. Paul is known for taking relatively few foreign trips compared to other U.S. Senators. He rejects using taxpayer funding for his trips as a matter of principle, so all his trips so far have been privately funded. The last time he reportedly had political meetings during an overseas trip was when he met with then-President of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina during a philanthropic visit in August 2014,
Although Malta is a small island nation with a population of just 400,000, it is a member of the European Union, and has played an important role in the EU’s ongoing migrant crisis. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and war-torn Libya, and thus the Maltese Navy has often intercepted or rescued Arab and African boat migrants who were attempting to reach the European mainland.
Malta is currently formally neutral, but was a close ally of the United States during the Cold War, hosting a U.S. military base in the 1950s. The country made news last year when a group of Gaddafi loyalists hijacked a Libyan airliner and landed it in Malta’s international airport, and Malta continues to pay an important role in assisting the United States with intelligence on the Libyan conflict.