Interview with Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini

November 5, 2005


Magdi Allam


Corriere della Sera

"Denying Israel's right to exist is an incentive to terrorism, since not acknowledging a State's right to exist is to disregard the right to life of an entire people. The words of Ahmadinejad help those working against stability in the Middle East and once again spread the flames that feed terrorism".


- Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini


Minister for Foreign Affairs Gianfranco Fini speaks on the day following a major demonstration in Rome against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to cancel Israel from the map, in which he intentionally did not participate as a result of his " sense of institutional responsibility". He has just returned from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and was in Toulouse yesterday to meet with his European counterparts more directly involved in Mediterranean matters. In the coming weeks the minister will hold talks on security, peace and cooperation with Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

Q. After Ahmadinejad's statements, is it still realistic to imagine peace when no small number of Muslim countries refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist?

A. In order to understand the reasons for which Israel considers its security an essential, unavoidable issue, it is necessary to recall that Ahmadinejad said out loud what others think and have not always had the gall to declare so bluntly. The tragic truth is that Israel is a democracy surrounded by countries with which, in some cases, it is "neither at peace nor at war", and others with which it has no diplomatic relations, and that there are many factions in the Arab world that somehow believe it has no right to exist. It is not possible to pretend not to understand that Hamas retains within its charter the objective of eliminating Israel. This illustrates how indispensable it is to assure Israel of the international community's commitment to its security. All things considered, if Israel continues to have to fear for the security of its citizens and for its survival, its leaders cannot be asked to build peace by giving up all the measures it considers indispensable in order to feel safe (the security fence being the most evident). This line of reasoning is not in contrast with the moral and political need to reassert on every occasion possible that the security of Israel must fall within a two peoples-two States perspective and, therefore, it is necessary to work toward the birth of a Palestinian State with the same intensity that characterises efforts to ensure security in Israel.

Q. Iran is challenging the world pursuing the possession of atomic weaponry. Is there a risk of armed conflict if European mediation fails?

A. There is cohesion within the European Union in requesting the maximum transparency by Teheran regarding its exclusively civilian use of nuclear power if it wishes to play a role in the Middle East deriving from objective reasons, not only based on the fact that it is a regional power but also on the fact that it has a major influence throughout the entire Shia area. It is also in the international community's interests not to have an isolated Teheran. If we want to resolve issues such as the Iraqi situation, we must hope for the collaboration of Teheran in stabilising the region. The more Teheran asks to be considered an interlocutor by the international community the more it must sense its responsibility to display stabilising, and not destabilising, behaviour. The international community must speak out in a single voice on this issue. No one is thinking of armed conflict with Iran.

Q. Let's go on to Iraq. Why precisely now does the Italian government seem to be taking its distance from a war without which there would not have been democracy? Why is the Italian government insisting now on withdrawing its troops precisely when the Iraqi government is asking for them to stay? Don't you think that in this way Italy risks foregoing those strategic political and economic fruits legitimately due it as a result of the commitment and responsibility it has assumed?

A. I deny that Italy is thinking of withdrawing. Italy is simply reiterating what we agreed with the Iraqi government, which is to say that we will not stay a minute longer than necessary. And that necessity will not be decided in a unilateral way, but evaluated by the Iraqi government - which is a legitimate government- and our allies. The sole scope of our presence is to rebuild Iraqi institutions by ensuring security, by training the army and police forces. As for taking our distance from the war: without the shadow of a doubt, there would be no path to democracy and freedom in Iraq today if Saddam were still there. What annoys me is that those who are saying that there were other ways to remove Saddam are the same who said, back when, after liberating Kuwait, the Americans decided not to march on Baghdad, that it was shameful to leave that dictator in place. It was a major assumption of responsibility that the Americans took on. Italy did not participate in the war against Saddam, but is cannot be denied that without the American-British intervention, Saddam would still be in power, Kurds would still be being exterminated and Shiites would still be an unrecognised minority.

Q. A globalised terrorism of Islamic origin remains the world's principal international emergency. How serious is the threat to Italy?

A. Italy is no more at risk than any other country. Our level of alarm is identical to that of Paris or Berlin, the capitals of two countries that have not sent troops to Iraq. Terrorism strikes regardless of whether a country has a military presence in Iraq or Afghanistan, proof of which are the bombings in Istanbul, Sharm el Sheikh and Indonesia. We must be aware that terrorism strikes not so much for what we are doing but for what we are. The aim of terrorism is that to ignite a clash between civilisations, to strike Western countries and Arab Muslim countries that dialogue with the West.