FRANCO FRATTINI, Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was with great pleasure that I accepted this invitation, as it represents a fresh opportunity to meet with this Committee. As you know, I always appreciate these invitations as I believe that, on some issues, confrontation with the Parliament is a useful instrument in directing and encouraging the government's approaches, or in integrating them where necessary. I am dealing with personally with the question of Iran, as I am doing with the entire geographical area, because I believe that it is one of the issues on which Italian foreign policy can make a relevant and important contribution.
I would like to thank Undersecretary Mantica - who is present at this hearing - for the work he has been doing in the geographic area delegated to him which, obviously, includes Iran; in this context he will be able to report, over the course of later meetings, on the developments concerning several issues that I examined yesterday with the highest Iranian authorities. Indeed, as you know, I met in Teheran with President Khatami, Minister for Foreign Affairs Kharazi, Seceretary of the National Security Council Rowhani, President of the Parliament Mr. Karroubi, as well as Minister for transport Khoram, who participated in the luncheon hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs: a broad panorama. In the first place we, and all our interlocutors, took note of the importance that Iran attributes to Italy's role, and of its commitment to the intense dialogue that exists and continues to develop with our country and that I believe will further develop as a result of my visit yesterday. This dialogue and this close relationship have led Italy to becoming, as many of you probably know, Iran's foremost trade partner among the countries of the European Union. My interlocutors placed great emphasis on this result, stating their hopes that this status will not only be maintained but be further strengthened. As for the strategic approach that I intended to follow and the topics I intended to introduce during the meeting, priority was given to the role of Iran and the importance, as a regional power, that it intends to give to its commitment to Afghanistan, Iraq and the process of reconstruction and political transition in that country, as well as to the situation in the Middle East. Furthermore, with reference to this latter aspect I decided to bring up another topic that is, for us, particularly important and qualifying: how, if and to what extent Iran is interested in discussing the normalisation of its relations with the western world, including the United States of America. The third, major scenario concerned relations with the European Union and Iran and the developments to be attributed to a meeting followed by a commitment and by the signing of a transparency protocol on Iranian nuclear activity. These expectations are clearly unanimously shared by the countries of Europe and deeply felt by the Italian government. Also treated were topics related to the bilateral relationship between Italy and Iran, as well as the articulated and important theme of the attention Italy is paying to democratic developments inside Iran, with reference to preparations for the elections to be held in approximately 20 days and to the major themes of human rights and the associated openness to dialogue on human rights and personal freedoms. This theme is, I repeat, a complex and articulated one that was, in any case, the object of my discussions. I will quickly mention and develop each of these themes one at a time. With regard to the first point, the role of Iran as a regional power, on the one hand I noted a complete awareness of this country's capability and clear desire to play a positive role in the region and, finally, to pursue a dialogue, so to speak, with many other governments on various aspects of the Middle East crisis. On the first point I must acknowledge Iran's positive engagement in Afghanistan, already demonstrated by its concrete deeds, beginning with a contribution to the fall of the Taliban regime but also - and this is an aspect on which we insisted heavily - with its firm efforts against the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics through an intense collaboration that could and can involve intelligence and police organisations. To this end I assured a mission to Teheran by the head of the anti-drug force of the Italian Ministry of the Interior and the appointment of an anti-drug expert to the Italian Embassy in order to strengthen the cooperation between Italy and Iran in anti-drug efforts, thus receiving not only the convinced consensus of all my interlocutors but also the encouragement to accelerate the technical development of this mission as much as possible, which is to take place in the month of February. As for the role of Iran in Iraq, in the first place I wanted to know where it stood regarding the very intense Iranian relationship with the Shiite community in Iraq, which is located, in particular, in areas that are of direct and strategic interest to us, such as Nassiriya, where the Italian contingent is deployed. First of all there is the desire for full cooperation in the political transition toward a legitimate Iraqi-run government that is representative of all the components of the society and respectful of territorial integrity (these are the key points for them); moreover, there is the full desire to participate in a dialogue on the legitimisation of this future government (the issue of timely elections, as we hope they will be, but also of a timeframe that allows for free, transparent and fully participated elections). The sense of moderation of the Shiite component in Iraq, which is heavily underscored by Teheran, is proof of this sense of responsibility.
I believe that this attitude is to be appreciated and I have been told that it will continue in an increasingly constructive climate, also since the United Nations is examining possible options for responding to the requests of the Ayatollah Al-Sistani to speed up the elections. In this context my interlocutors and I gradually found ourselves agreeing that what is needed is the UN's timely return to the area, the appointment of Vieira de Mello's successor, and that the UN must fully re-enter Iraqi territory. This was one of the points on which we agreed fully, just as there was complete consensus on the prospects for a legitimate Iraqi government and territorial integrity - thus against any idea of cutting Iraq up.
I was particularly struck by, and very much appreciated, a statement by President Khatami and National Security Council Secretary Rowhani, who very clearly stated that the Iraqi Shiite people consider Italians their friends. I believe that this is an important message, and not only one of friendship, sent directly from the Iraqi Shiites to the Shiite authorities in Iran. As for the Middle East, Iran has declared the decision to liberate a number of members of the hezbollah a success; the agreement was obtained only three days ago through the intervention of several mediators, the coordination of a German mediator and, among others, the presence of Italian representatives engaged for some time now in Lebanon.
In this regard I believed it useful to open up the discussion to the issue of counter-terrorism. All of my interlocutors stated that Iran, as a responsible power that feels duty-bound to contribute to regional stabilisation, declares its unequivocal commitment to fighting terrorism and, in particular, Al Qaeda. They told us that they had already acted to this end and, although they are sorry that the West and the United States little acknowledge their role, that they will continue to pursue, capture and arrest - if and when they find them - all the Al Qaeda militants. Their commitment seemed very clear to me, along with what they consider inadequate acknowledgement by the West and the USA of the positive steps taken. Precisely these latter points prompted me to say that I would report, as I will do in a few hours to Secretary of State Powell, on these meetings in order to communicate to the United States the perception that I have had of their willingness to extend and elevate the level of dialogue on major strategic themes such as counter-terrorism and anti-drug efforts, the reconstruction of Iraq (in which the Iranians told me that their own firms were ready to participate), in order to regenerate a general dialogue with the international community. This is the perception that I had, and these are also explicit declarations made by my interlocutors and which I deem worthy of attention. For this reason I will speak with representatives of the United States, reporting also on a series of details and aspects of the dialogue. Then there is the extremely important theme of relations with the European Union. We both recognise that this step forward on nuclear energy is one worthy of appreciation and that it was not an isolated event, but a step along a path upon which there is no turning back. I heard a clear desire to continue, fully respecting the commitments undertaken, in absolute transparency, in the fulfilment of all pacts and maintaining the suspension of all activities using enriched uranium which, as you know, is one of the most qualifying aspects. I listened to Iran's appreciation for Europe's having dealt with this issue, after an initial effort by three countries, and the final convinced encouragement and joint appreciation of all 25 European countries regarding its decision.
It was also clear to me that the Iranian are expecting a positive signal from Europe, a signal that could even be essentially symbolic but which might convince the Iranian people that that commitment to transparency and to the suspension of enriched uranium activities, so appreciated by us Europeans, can lead not only to words but also to gestures of European appreciation. In brief the gesture that they are waiting for, and shortly (I would say following the February elections would be reasonable), is the setting of a date for reopening the negotiations on the economic/trade treaty between Europe and Iran.
I clearly stated that Italy is favourable to such a signal but that it must be accompanied by the simultaneous reconsideration of issues such as the dialogue on human rights and personal freedoms. In other words, this positive message must not only be associated with the results of the nuclear commitment, but must also trigger a Europe/Iran dialogue, which already exists but needs to be extended to themes such as respect for human rights. The Italian government will be working for the success of the upcoming dialogue session on human rights; in other words, so that it is a session in which to deal with the theme of specific human rights. I am referring in particular to aspects such as the rights of women in Iranian society, a subject upon which I received many words of comprehension, which in diplomatic language means more than consideration. Comprehension means the realisation that one of the issues to be dealt with in Iran's developing democracy is that of full and equal rights for women, a subject upon which complete results have not yet been reached.
We inserted (I proposed that it be inserted in this context) a dialogue on freedom of information and on the freedom and plurality of means of information. My response was a willingness to extend the dialogue to be held with Europe to this subject as well. I believe that Italy should and can promote this to its European partners (there is still resistance on the part of some, but not many) in order to give Iran that positive signal: indicating a date on which to begin negotiations, not for concluding them nor for concluding them within a few weeks. Before going on to the question of the elections, and therefore of political transition, we also touched on the theme of bilateral relations. I can briefly say that there is great demand for "Italy", for the confirmation and strengthening of new trade partnerships between Italy and Iran. Highly prestigious sectors such as infrastructure and entrepreneurial development were already the object yesterday of a demand for "Italy" to which we obviously will have to respond. The theme of culture is another strategic one that I personally brought up and on which I received a response of major consensus. I suggested that the Ministry arrange for the Italian Cultural Institute - closed many years ago - to reopen in Teheran in order to bring our cultural presence back into the centre of exchanges between two heirs of very ancient civilisations and as a terrain for a very useful dialogue. In conclusion, Italy is recognised as a point of reference for a country developing at programmed levels of seven to eight annual percentage points in GDP increases, i.e. at a rapid rate. Finally, I dealt with the crucial theme of electoral competition and I did so along with Parliament President Karroubi. In the first place, he underscored how intense and fruitful - indeed, I would say, constant - exchanges were between the Italian Parliament and the Iranian Parliament. He then publicly thanked me, asking me to communicate the gratitude of the Iranian Parliament. Both of my interlocutors, but particularly the President of the Parliament, communicated to me what is more than their perception, and more than the results of a survey, and that is that the elections will enjoy widespread popular participation and that they will be elections in which the process of transition toward a developed democracy will be able to continue and not be arrested. There will be a commitment (as President Khatami said) to working with trust and optimism, as well as to working toward avoiding the unjust (as he said) exclusion of candidates: a concept of injustice that, the President of the Parliament reiterated, is posed as an objective to be avoided.
Both told me that they trust in the positive evolution of the situation in the coming weeks; I expressed not only my appreciation for the positions taken (which I deem courageous) but also the fervent hope of the Italian government that this process, which one of my interlocutors defined as typical of a developing democracy (this was the significant expression he used), not be arrested and, on the contrary, that it be rewarded by the February vote. These were my statements: I sought to be as explicit as possible, although I knew - as you all know - that these are going to be key weeks for some decisions that the Iranian system entrusts not to the President of the Republic but to an body that is a direct emanation of the supreme leader.
In conclusion I would point out that I returned from this visit with the conviction that relations between Italy and Iran will grow more intense and that this will allow us to rely on Iran as a regional power in a key area of the world, and a profound friend to Italy. I underlined these aspects because I believe they are typical of the strategic action that Italy wishes to carry out in that region of the world. Link to the complete verbatim version: