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Italy Trading Its Way to the Negotiating Table on Iran

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo and Kevin Reynolds on June 20, 2008

Italy now seeks a stronger position in negotiations over Iran, but is hitting resistance from key players like the United States and Germany. Regardless of the outcome, due to strong economic ties, Italy will continue to play an important role in resolving the Iran crisis. With the rise of Italy's recently elected Prime Minster, Silvio Berlusconi, a harder stance on Iran has emerged with hope that Italy will win a seat at the P5+1 negotiating table. "Now Italy will push forward to be really in the club on Iran...Italy will not be left isolated by a restricted group of European partners plus the US," stated Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in May.

Italy rejected the policy of sanctions under Prime Minister Romano Prodi, so must now prove its willingness to go along with the group's hard stance on sanctioning Iran into a nuclear suspension. "We need to reassure our partners in deeds rather than in formulas, which won't be easy after two years of silence during which the former government under Prodi did not accept the sanctions and had a more open attitude toward Iran; we've only been in the government for two months, we need to rebuild an atmosphere of trust," said Frattini.

P5+1 Responds

Responding to Italy's offer, US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, "If you let in an additional country, who else wants to come in? And then it goes to the issue of how big does the framework get?" He added that "at this point the president hasn't made up his mind." Although formal statements on the topic are rare, Germany seems to be the main EU partner against the offer. A senior White House official suggested that the appeal from Italy may not be realistic in light of Germany's resistance.

Recently, saying that all P5+1 members are against Italy's offer; German Foreign Minister Andreas Pesch has tried to take the blame off Germany. Still, Italy believes that German opposition is preventing P5+1 acceptance. "We all know about Germany's uncertainty" said Frattini. Frattini explained Germany's resistance as a fear that attention will be taken off Germany's significant role in exclusive negotiations, as it bids to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. "We need to prevent these two issues, Iran and the UN, from being linked together," said Frattini.

Not to Be Forgotten

Although an addition of Italy to the P5+1 is doubtful, the state's role in any solution on Iran is essential. With the help of the P5+1, the United States is now pushing to restrict all EU assets connected to Iran. As Iran's largest trading partner in Europe and its largest consumer of natural gas, Italy is central to resolving the Iran crisis and easing tension between negotiators. Italy's extensive trade relations with Iran have deepened relations between the nations, "We know Iran very well from the inside," said Berlusconi in June. In 2006 Italy and Iran had $8.19 billion in bilateral trade. In 2007, bilateral trade between the two nations amounted to over $9 billion. This compared to Germany's $6 billion in bilateral with Iran.

Italy may not gain acceptance into the P5+1, but its trade relations with Iran are helping to resolve tension, since engagement builds trust, while the P5+1's policy of sanctions is only building tensions and moving the region closer to war.


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