Shortly before Prime Minister Mario Monti’s visit with Barak Obama at the White House, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met at the Department of State with Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata. The two heads of foreign policy met for a few minutes with journalists and we noted a very different expression on Mrs. Clinton’s face than the one she had coming out of the UN Security Council a week earlier. Hillary appeared euphoric, with a smile that was finally reflected the U.S. administration’s great satisfaction with the results achieved by Monti, the man that Barak Obama sees as being in the right place at the right time, and capable of saving Italy and Europe from a financial collapse that would upset the American economy too.
As Monti ended his meeting with Obama, and Twitter came alive with triumphant comments on the professor’s trip to Washington, we had a chance for an exclusive interview with Foreign Minister Terzi at the Embassy of Italy in Washington.
Mr. Minister, is the White House’s special regard for Premier Monti owing to the fear that Europe might not manage, or are they looking for something more from Italy?
“First of all, I would like to thank America Oggi for giving me the chance to speak to the Italians of America. This is my first visit back to the United States after leaving the embassy to take up my post as foreign minister; a return that coincides with an extraordinarily important occasion, and at a highly significant moment in the friendship and political relations between Italy and the United States. There were great expectations of this meeting between Premier Monti and President Obama, and of a series of others that the Premier held in economic and financial spheres in Washington, with the Congress and also, for my part, with Secretary of State Clinton. Initial analysis of this meeting brings out its immense importance: it allowed for a better specification of Italy’s role in the stabilisation of the eurozone and in contributing to the continuing economic and monetary integration of the European Union. The Italian government has made rapid progress on the level of balancing the budget, and has succeeded in being an essential element in the recently concluded Fiscal Compact and European Stability Mechanism negotiations in Brussels. Italy has re-entered the circuit of consultations among key European Member States, acquiring a leading role thanks to its ability to overcome the economic crisis with rapid and courageous measures, supported by public opinion and the Parliament. In other words, it has been able to acquire a credibility,that we have today witnessed, with the American society and the U.S. government. The focus of our conversations today was surely economic policy, the ability to have a balanced budget from next year onward and to pull the overall economy out of the red; but it was also a moment of very intense agreement between Prime Minister Monti and President Obama on growth measures, and strategies in the creation and reinforcement of the single market. Italy has advanced proposals for sustainable growth models, and how these initiatives regarding domestic market and demand can coincide with the American strategies with which they interact and, therefore, fuel employment and economic activity on both sides of the Atlantic, which seems to me a strong factor at this politically important moment for Italy and the U.S. Naturally, they discussed other issues on the international political agenda, especially as regards our nations’ security: our common engagement in crisis areas and the transformation under way in Afghanistan, ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago; the major concerns that Italy and the United States share with other partners over the deteriorating Syrian crisis; how a broad group of countries that have come together to find a political way out of this situation could be encouraged by the determined efforts of both Italy and the U.S., along with Turkey and other European partners, to foster the creation of the conditions for resolving this terrible situation”
But Western public opinion is confused by the difference in this crisis compared with the attitude that was taken toward Libya. The intervention in Libya was in the name of the “responsibility to protect” a civilian population being aggressed by its government. But UN resolutions on Syria remain blocked. Which of the two approaches is the right one: the determination to intervene in Libya or the caution applied to Syria?
“Historic situations never repeat themselves in the same way. The operations in Libya – involving a certain number of countries taking action on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution urged by the Arab League and other international society components to protect a population being massacred on Gaddafi’s orders – was a success. However, over 60,000 people were either killed or wounded in country of only a few million, a catastrophe of inhuman proportions that happened despite an intervention authorised by and requested of the UN. Now, no one imagines that every situation that seems to be leading to civil war, or in which governments are killing their own populations, presents exactly the same conditions as the Libyan crisis did. But there is no doubt that, if the Security Council had authorized the resolution that was proposed, we would today find ourselves with a much more substantial UN observers mission, possibly in collaboration with the Arab League, and this would be understood as a very strong deterrent to the criminal attitude of a regime that massacres its people. In my opinion the problem has to be considered in different terms. The problem is not to repeat ad infinitum the kind of operation that was carried out in Libya, but to understand what can be done in a unique context such as that of Syria. Now, we believe that a responsible attitude would be to see to it that the Security Council is able to express itself, and thus create the internationally legal and political conditions that would allow for an intervention more intrusive than an international observers mission that could stop this massacre; capable, therefore, of giving that population a minimum of democracy and representation, as compared with a regime that by now only represents a minuscule military faction and a small ethnic minority. Italy is working intensely, and is in frequent contact with the Arab League, the region’s main countries and our European partners, and will be discussing the problem in the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on the 27th of this month, with the idea of increasing pressure on the regime, but also of finding ways to sustain humanitarian interventions for expatriates and on behalf of refugee camps».
As a former ambassador to Israel, do you see storm clouds gathering on the horizon with Iran? Are you concerned, as regards Italy, about the possible consequences to the Italy-led peacekeeping mission in Lebanon?
“We have been contributing to the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon since 2006. An Italian commander did what everyone considered an exceptional job leading it for three years, and now, as of the end of January, we are once again at the command of this peacekeeping operation. We consider UNFIL a major factor in the stability between Israel and Lebanon. Of course, the destabilisation of Syria is potentially dangerous for the entire region, but it is my feeling that the current Lebanese government, and the ability of the Lebanese armed forces to collaborate, are elements that give us confidence about keeping Lebanon out of the destabilisation that has been going on in Syria. It could get into a very complex game with other nearby countries, Iraq, Israel, Iran, and there are rumours that Iran is engaging in internal interference in Syria. It is difficult to say if that’s true, but if there is any appeal I would make to the Iranian authorities, it would be to show a collaborative attitude regionally in such a way as to strengthen its international credibility in nuclear negotiations».
Kissinger once complained that he didn’t have a phone number for Europe. After Monti’s visit will Obama be dialling Rome for news on the EU?
“Prime Minister Monti said that there is a telephone number for Brussels and that that must be the reference point for the American administration. Naturally bilateral relations between the U.S. and European countries are good, we are very proud of the solid friendship and direct collaboration between our two nations, but we also wish to underscore how important it is for the American administration to consider Europe a growing political and economic reality and to use that number in Brussels».
Let’s move on to Italians in the world. The closure of RAI International, the announcement of further cuts to funding of the foreign press, decisions that seem to distance Italy from its citizens around the world – are these permanent decisions?
“As for my personal commitment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I feel I must point out a very specific aspect to everyone, and one that I sense profoundly: my aim is to be Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Italians in the World, which is fully linked with my efforts, above all, as Ambassador to the United States. At the time I stated that an Italian ambassador is, first and foremost, a bridge between Italians residing abroad and their country of origin. Because these communities are one of the greatest resources for the nation’s international outreach – our strength in a global world. For Italy this means counting on, interacting with and supporting our communities abroad, and having their support. I had first-hand experience of this support in the broad-based campaign for the dissemination of the Italian language, and the great response I saw in Washington over the years to the relaunch of the AP programme. And that’s just one of many examples I could make, when I think of the rich series of events held in the U.S. in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. On the strength of that we have decided that 2013 will be the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, meaning that we intend to use the momentum created in 2011 and 2012 to launch a series of initiatives that will include museum exhibitions and concerts that could be arranged in cooperation with the Americans, that will not only be funded with public monies but also skilfully carried out and managed by our consular offices, Italian Cultural Institutes and embassies. I realise the sense of abandonment that may be going around as a result of deep cuts to the public budget, and that I hope will be transitory. From the moment that I undertook my responsibilities, I decided to suspend any decisions on the closure of consulates or cultural institutes. I think that other formulas can be found for offsetting expenses that continue to rise and are increasingly burdensome, given the hefty €260 million cut from the ministry’s €800 million budget. I am determined not only to limit reductions in financing but also to recuperate in every sector in the upcoming fiscal years. We are also engaged in election reforms in the Italian communities, which must meet the expectations of those who, with great generosity, who look out for their fellow Italians, for cultural relations, for forms of assistance and for the representation our communities. I believe that we cannot skimp on these reforms, they must be efficient ones. I am confident that the parliamentary forces will be favourable and, above all, that there will be a positive contribution from the members elected in the foreign districts. There, all these activities are, I believe, the concern of the current government, which is heavily committed to bridging the distance between us and our fellow citizens abroad. Naturally that does not mean having more resources to spend, what we said in the beginning about economic compatibility and large sacrifices that Italians in Italy and abroad alike are making, to revitalize the state budget and to continue to build our credibility in Europe is a given that we cannot ignore».