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Minister Terzi’s interview with Corriere della Sera

ROME – At the meeting of the “High Level Group on Syria” scheduled for 28 February 2013 in Rome, Italy and the European countries’ proposal to the United States will be for “greater flexibility” in measures supporting the opposition to Assad’s regime. Most notably, they will ask for the “non-lethal” military aid to be extended to include technical assistance and training, in order to “consolidate the activity of the coalition”.

This was the news from Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, in an interview with the Corriere as his mandate at the Farnesina draws to a close. The summit was organised by Italian diplomacy at the request of the new US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Taking part will be the 11 countries most closely involved in handling the Syrian crisis, and representatives of the opposition to Damascus.

“The request was made because Washington has seen the continuity and keen focus with which the Italian Government has been following the Syrian crisis for over a year. We have been working hard, together with the Special Envoy for the Middle East, a position that I created on my arrival. The main effort lay in helping the somewhat nebulous opposition come together and find common ground. And we succeeded. A firm platform now exists, which represents an alternative to Assad in terms both of proposals and of personnel. But we need to seek a political solution to the carnage: we cannot wait for yet more tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees. They Americans are aware of the urgent need to resolve the crisis”.

What are the difficulties still overshadowing the opening of talks?

“Assad’s departure is a seriously divisive issue. We think the talks could start even while his regime is still in place, with the involvement of Russia and China, with a view to phasing out the regime. In other words, the dictator’s departure would be the end point rather than the starting point. Of course, the political conditions must be in place: it’s hard to imagine negotiations starting while bombing and massacres are still going on, refugees are fleeing the country and the prisons are full. We need to see signs of good faith. Rome is therefore an important ‘staging post’, given the dramatic nature of the crisis”.

John Kerry’s other Italian engagement is on 27 February: the “Transatlantic Dinner” with the Atlantic community foreign ministers. What will you be talking about?

“First, allow me to point out that Kerry’s visit comes at the end of a period that has seen Italy’s role in Europe, in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, and in various African countries grow stronger. And one certain factor in this has been the direct commitment of the Head of State, his many trips abroad and his constant action and presence. The Transatlantic meeting is concrete proof of our credibility as a country, and proof that we are making a difference on key questions.

We’ll be discussing current international issues, but at the top of the agenda I’d put a major issue for the future: the opening of talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Talks that I’m convinced will profoundly change the EU-USA relationship. The negotiations will be complex, but this is a vital step and a demonstration of how the ‘pivot to Asia’, which has generated so much discussion, can become a ‘pivot to the Atlantic’. It means focusing our attention once again on everything that can generate growth, innovation and research in the Western world”.

But is Europe ready to take on the risks of a game where the stakes are so high?

“There are certainly some very critical dossiers, but I have the impression that the climate in Brussels has changed. There’s a perception that the agreement is a necessary challenge, given the serious weakness of our economies, because the estimates suggest that it could produce a ‘growth effect’ of about 250 billion euros a year in GDP, i.e. nearly 1%. The other important factor is that if the talks are successful then numerous rules governing trade and services would continue to be drawn up by the West, whereas if they failed then in a few years time we’d be subjected to rules drawn up by others”.

What would that mean for Italy and how should future governments act?

“Our biggest challenge is to restore growth through policies such as training for young people, innovation, research and greater competitiveness in our universities. We need a change of mind-set which, unfortunately, as a citizen I have to say is entirely lacking in the current electoral debate. The reasons may be understandable, but there is no focus at all on knowledge, in the form of innovation, research, training… all of which are essential to the revitalisation of our economy”.

What is Italy’s place in Europe and the world?

“In Europe, Italy must resume its role as a driver of political integration and be mindful of our country’s need of Europe. And at the global level, we must meet the great demand for Italy and all things Italian. The two aspects are closely linked”.

Do you agree that the lack of strong leaders is one of the main causes of the European crisis?

“I agree that we not succeeded recently in installing great statesmen and –women at the head of the European institutions. We haven’t kept up with public opinion. And the tendency in forming consensus has been passive, when we should have been standing out from the crowd and offering new visions. We’re probably suffering from the lack of grand ideals and political and social projects. We’ve fallen into a sort of decline or inward-looking inertia linked to our day-to-day material conditions. It’s inevitable in some respects, but we’re at risk of falling into a disorderly spin”.

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