Da The New York Times del 30/08/2006
Originale su http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/30/world/europe/30italy.html?_r=2&o...

Italy's Peacekeeping Offer Signals Shift in Its Foreign Policy

di Ian Fisher

ROME, Aug. 29 — Kofi Annan thanked Italy. So did George W. Bush. And on Tuesday, as he stood on a ship carrying 800 Italian peacekeepers to Lebanon, the largest deployment of foreign troops to date, Prime Minister Romano Prodi could take pride that his nation had played the key role in overcoming Europe's hesitation to put its soldiers at risk in the Middle East.

Readers shared their thoughts on the terror arrests and the vulnerability of the United States.

“Bush was very warm, thanking me for leadership, for having pushed the European team,” Mr. Prodi said in an interview on Monday, recalling a recent telephone conversation with the president.

But for all the points Italy scored for courage — pledging a total of 3,000 peacekeepers for Lebanon last week, when France made a first offer of just 200 — the nation's new leaders are also using the moment to declare a new distance from Washington.

After five years of unusually close relations between Mr. Bush and the former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the new center-left leadership is shifting Italy back to the camp of Europe — and at the same time pushing for a stronger, more united Europe as a counterbalance to America.

The United States and Israel supported the Lebanon mission. But that seems almost incidental when Mr. Prodi and other Italian leaders talk about their reasons for pushing the mission so aggressively, despite the risks and the wavering elsewhere in Europe.

“When the United Nations decided to engage in the area, in Europe it was clear,” Mr. Prodi, for five years the European Union president, said in the telephone interview.

“It was a moral and political issue,” he added, for Europe to take the lead in stopping the fighting in Lebanon, thus carving out a stronger international role for Europe in the explosive — and geographically close — Middle East. With America bogged down in Iraq and distrusted by Arab nations, there was no one else to do it but Europe, he said.

“My policy is first of all a European policy,” Mr. Prodi said. “I don't think that any European country alone can have a role in the world. And so I want to create some kind of European co-action.”

For all the opposition here to the war in Iraq, Italy remains close to the United States, a fact that Mr. Berlusconi used to his political advantage in keeping its foreign policy in near-perfect alignment with Washington and, often, contrary to the rest of Europe.

“I am on whatever side America is on, even before I know what it is,” he said, half-jokingly, as he ran for office in 2001.

But with Iraq still mired in violence, Mr. Prodi's government seems to feel a certain freedom to distance itself from Washington, apparently without paying a price either with voters or the Bush administration itself. For the moment, in the glow of the early success over forming a peacekeeping force for Lebanon, Italian leaders, political experts and even American diplomats speak of a new “effective multilateralism” that Italy seems to be testing.

“Honestly, Berlusconi found himself in a different place with a stronger division of Europe and unilateralism of America,” Massimo D'Alema, the Italian foreign minister, said in an interview over the weekend. “We live in a different phase, and for this we are lucky, because today unilateralism is clearly in a crisis. It is finished.”

And so Mr. D'Alema, a former Communist, has felt free to take shots at American foreign policy even as he cultivated what both Italian and American officials say is a warm relationship with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In the deployment to Lebanon, Italy and America found a common cause, if different motives, with each side praising the other for helping to form a more viable force of troops.

“If there is a little sniping and ‘I told you so' going on from the Italians, it's all to the good for the United States and Italy,” said John L. Harper, professor of American foreign policy and European studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna. “I don't see any obvious risks, in terms of U.S.-Italian relations.”

Earlier this month, however, Mr. D'Alema allowed a top Hezbollah official to take him by the arm when he toured bombed-out areas of Lebanon. Italian Jews were infuriated, and the moment confirmed for the center-right opposition their contention that Mr. Prodi's government — which ranges from Catholic centrists to far-left Greens and Communists — is essentially pro-Arab and anti-Israel.

In addition, some among the center-right oppose the Lebanon mission as likely to prove ineffective because, they say, Europe has never been strong or cohesive enough to provide real leadership.

“This is clearly an action intended in order to stop Israel's policy of defending itself and at the same time trying to show America that Europe has muscles,” said Paolo Guzzanti, a senator in Mr. Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. “Which is wrong, first off, because Europe unfortunately does not have muscles.”

“It's a pointless show,” he added. “It's ‘Hey, America, we are here!' ”

Mr. Prodi, Mr. D'Alema and other center-left leaders deny that their new direction is anti-American, with some taking specific care to dispute any suggestion of anti-Israeli bias.

“Perhaps one of the rare good things that Berlusconi did during his mandate was improving relations with Jerusalem,” said Francesco Rutelli, a deputy prime minister.

The peacekeeping mission will be the first major deployment led by Europe since the war in Bosnia in the early 1990's, an effort often criticized as weak and ineffective. And the risks in Lebanon — and thus to Italy's ambitions for a more credible European role — are great: in 1983, 241 American service members and 58 French paratroopers were killed in Lebanon in a bombing of their barracks.

Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador to NATO and an influential newspaper columnist, argued that those risks increase if Europe is not able to develop a coherent foreign policy for the region. Otherwise, he said, soldiers will be put in harm's way without the prospect of a long-term gain — and worse, they may not be able to respond effectively when things, inevitably, go wrong.

“Being on the ground with a military force in a situation like that, it's just one piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Romano said. “It's a very big job.”

Mr. Prodi and Mr. D'Alema agree that any deployment must be linked to a larger solution in the region, in the long term if not right away.

“Let's use common sense,” Mr. Prodi said. “Step by step. Now we have to guarantee peace between Lebanon and Israel. Then of course we have to start dialogue, links, but we will expand to the neighboring problems.”

“Now we have to prepare the minds and the souls for that,” he said.
Annotazioni − Peter Kiefer contributed reporting for this article.

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