LIMA - The Berlusconi Government is having second thoughts. In 2003 the Premier and Franco Frattini, then in his first period of office as Foreign Minister, decided that Italy would not be part of the group of European negotiators (United Kingdom, France and Germany) who were beginning talks with Teheran on the nuclear question. Back then, the Iranians even proposed that Italy, which held the EU Presidency at the time, should lead the negotiations, which in effect gave rise to the "P5+1" group. The "P5", of course, stands for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the "1" for Germany. So what might be called an extension of the Security Council, but with Berlin and without Italy. "Now we've asked the United States if we can be invited into the group", said Frattini in Lima, where he's taking part in the EU-Latin America and Caribbean summit. On Iran, the Foreign Minister has also announced a decisive change of direction. Italy is changing its policy and moving firmly towards America, which wants to halt Teheran's nuclear plans. However, Italy still recognises the Iranians' role in the "Greater Middle East".
Q. What will the Berlusconi government's attitude to Iran be?
R. "Without using the tones adopted by Saudi Arabia after the crisis in Lebanon, I'd say that we don't want to see Iran having such a tangible influence on the Syrian, Lebanese and Middle Eastern scenario. We find it worrying. We don't want a nuclear power in the Greater Middle East. That's why we'd like to be a part of the European team - we want people to understand that even if we have our country's economic interests in Iran at heart, we stand firmly with the group of European countries exerting political pressure on Teheran. In one of his parting statements, Minister D'Alema agreed to withdraw Italy's objections to the EU sanctions, a decision taken when it was clear that Berlusconi's election victory would in any case have led in that direction. We won't be turning back".
Q. Italy isn't taking part in the "5+1" Group
R. "Italy is already working at a technical level in the team preparing the ground for the Group but we're now asking to join at the political level too. I've asked the United States if we can be invited to take part, and they were very encouraging. I hope our European partners will also understand this aim".
Q. Still on the subject of bilateral relations: how will the Berlusconi government view its relations with Iran?
R. "The same way as the Iranian government will view its relations with us. On the nuclear question, we take the same position as the European countries and the United States. But on issues such as the stabilisation of Iraq, drug trafficking from Afghanistan, or the stabilisation of the Middle East, we can see common interests on which we can work together".
Q. Turning to Lebanon, a new stage in the crisis is beginning
R. "The agreement between the political factions to restore some normality to the situation is important. It means that the international community's action has been successful. The Arab League's mission and the document we adopted the other evening in the teleconference with Friends of Lebanon have led to an understanding by the parties concerned that the international community is very determined indeed. In the next few days we'll be evaluating a major step: a declaration by the UN Security Council on the role of Hezbollah. The Shiite movement has obtained a result, the withdrawal of the Siniora government's decisions, but now it's their turn to take a positive step. We don't want Hezbollah to create a 'state within the state'".
Q. How do you view the work of Unifil?
R. "Our Israeli friends say that we haven't achieved the objective of totally disarming Hezbollah. But Unifil hasn't disarmed Hezbollah because it doesn't have a mandate to do so. And the Lebanese security forces haven't done so because they're not strong enough. In my opinion, what's needed now is to reinforce the government and set up a government of national unity before we start talking about the Unifil mandate".