THE first European leader to visit President Reagan after the recent Gorbachev summit is the prime minister of Italy. This is fitting. Not that Giovanni Goria is especially well known in the United States. He isn't, as yet. Still, even though most Americans don't know him well, Italy itself is a key player in the US-European alliance. Polls over the years have shown Italians to be among the most consistent backers of the transatlantic American-European defense pact. There is no huge antinuclear, anti-US peace faction in Italy, as there is in some northern European nations. That is not to say Italians are any less worried about nuclear arms than are other Europeans. As Mr. Goria is pointing out to President Reagan, Italians don't like the East-West arms rivalry any more than do their counterparts elsewhere on the Continent. At the same time, Italians are comfortable with the United States in terms of defense and trade ties in general, although they disagree on many specifics.
That is why the Goria visit is particularly helpful. Goria is stressing that Italy welcomes the new arms accord on intermediate weapons. That's one up for Mr. Reagan, in the White House effort to sell the pact to Congress. But Goria also points out that ``star wars'' - the Strategic Defense Initiative - will probably have to be put on the negotiating table as a bargaining point if the US really wants to win a comprehensive agreement cutting long-range offensive missiles.
Goria, a Christian Democrat and former Italian treasury minister, also argues for more coherence in American economic policies. The US cannot argue it ``wants a stable dollar and then allow it to fall,'' he has said. The dollar continues to drop in relation to the lira, reaching a five-year low recently: This works against Italian exports.
The Washington visit helps the prime minister politically. Goria took over the reins of government last summer. Since then, however, his Cabinet has been caught up in repeated controversy. It's a good moment to get away. In meeting with Reagan, Goria is able to present himself to Italian voters as a statesman as well as financial technician.