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“Terzi and Italy in the World” (America Oggi)

NEW YORK. Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata is in New York for meetings at the United Nations. On Monday 4 March 2013 he met the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to discuss Libya and Somalia and the crises in Syria, Mali and the Sahel. At the end of the meeting, Terzi gave us this long interview, having chosen our newspaper to give an overview of his 16 months at the head of Italian foreign policy in the Monti Government. In that period Terzi has sought to safeguard Italian interests, and our country’s global expectations and hopes. We are convinced that he succeeded. But you, our readers, can decide for yourselves.

In these months, which international crisis has kept you awake at night?

“First of all, I’d like to thank America Oggi – a media publication that I admire and whose readers I know well. You put it very well: I have tried to instil in the work of Italian diplomacy a sense of responsibility for protecting, defending and promoting our national interest, combined with a determination to have faith in our country. My aim was to convey an understanding that diplomacy represents, throughout the world, the boundless scope of our country’s values. Economic and cultural values, as well as a political ability to assert all that is best in Italy’s history and identity. That is what so many countries affected by destabilisation and violence, by the great dramas that strike humanity, by systematic violations of human rights and the fundamental freedoms, expect of us.

I very much wanted my visit here at the UN to be not just a farewell, but also a renewed expression of a commitment for the future. Italy will go on looking to the United Nations as a beacon for foreign policy and action. The Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, with whom I have built up an excellent working relationship over time, understands well that Italy is a vital partner for the UN system, has never ceased to be so and will continue to be so in the future. As a country we provide a major contribution to the United Nations peace and security structures, we have always been in 6th or 7th place in terms of financial contribution and aid programmes, and especially peace operations, in which over 1100 of our soldiers are engaged. We are the leading G8 country contributing with military observers and police officers to the UN’s peace operations, and one of the leading European countries in terms of our national contribution”.

Good. But did you speak with Ban Ki-moon about the crisis that concerns you more than any other?

“We spoke about the Syrian crisis. What you said is true: there have been many episodes that have stung my conscience, as I believe they will have stung the conscience of anybody who keeps up with events and cares about respect for human dignity. We continue to see outright massacres in Syria, and the devastation of cities like Homs, Aleppo, Damascus itself and so many other towns. This is a truly terrible civil war, a lacerating crescendo of violence, as the use of Scud missiles demonstrates. So, if any crisis has troubled even those people who are most inclined to apathy, it is the Syrian crisis. Which, let’s not forget, also involves neighbouring countries. Nearly a million refugees are now in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Over 70,000 people have been killed.

It’s the dramatic intensification of the conflict that led Italy, the USA, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey and the Arab countries to meet in Rome last week [28 February 2013] along with the leadership of the coalition of Syrian opposition forces. The aim was to intensify the efforts for a political solution to the crisis and also our support for the Coalition, through concrete material help. Non-military aid, however, because no-one wants to throw petrol on the flames of an already extremely violent military situation. In the meeting with Al-Khatib (leader of the opposition coalition) in Rome, we mentioned that our development cooperation team is already working along those lines as well as in training and in the delivery of essential services in key sectors such as heath. Italy is participating fully in tackling the Syrian crisis. I illustrated our role to the UN Secretary General, who seemed to be well informed of it”.

Is the Italian engagement in addressing the Syrian crisis perhaps the result, just one of many in 16 months at the head of the Farnesina, that you are most proud of?

“Look, it’s hard to single out just one cause for satisfaction at having led a great organisation like the Foreign Ministry and contributed to the work of all the State institutions with responsibility for Italy’s presence and image abroad. My reasons for satisfaction are many, just as the difficulties I encountered as a result of certain events that occurred, certainly not through my wishes or those of the Government, are many. We have seen Italian nationals in situations of grave difficulty, we have seen difficult times for our businesses.

The reasons for satisfaction certainly outnumber the obstacles we had to overcome. Our main cause for satisfaction is that we have managed to safeguard some of Italy’s fundamental values: human rights, the dignity of the individual, women’s rights.

Just today, at the United Nations, a important ministerial session of the Commission on the Status of Women is taking place. In the margins, Italy has organised an event, which my colleague, Labour and Equal Opportunities Minister Elsa Fornero, will be attending, on female genital mutilation. That’s another major campaign that I’ve taken forward, with strong support from the whole of Italy, and especially from radical organisations and associations like ‘Non c’è pace senza giustizia’. I’d like in particular to mention Emma Bonino and the many members of the radical movement who have taken this campaign forward in so many countries, and especially in Africa. A campaign that culminated in December 2012 in the adoption of a historic resolution by the General Assembly.

The campaign conducted by ‘Nessuno Tocchi Caino’ against the death penalty has been equally important.

I’d also like to remind your readers that Italy has been in the front line in following the complex developments of the Arab Spring and the stabilisation process in countries of fundamental importance for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and so for our own country”.

That takes us to the consequences of the Arab revolutions. In Mali, first the French, and now the Germans, have arrived. Since the onset of the crisis Italy has been represented by Prodi’s UN mission. What more will Italy be doing?

“I’ve been following developments in the Malian crisis, and then the French intervention, very closely since the outset. I remember a European ministerial in Cyprus last September. The political implications of the crisis in Mali have been uppermost in everything we’ve done. A recent Council of European Foreign Ministers decided to approve a mission of European trainers to train the Malian armed forces. Italy takes part in these training initiatives by sending instructors.

I hope Italy will continue to engage in the efforts to stabilise Mali and that in the near future the conditions will be right for a more significant economic contribution from our country. During my meeting at the UN, Ban Ki-moon also told me how much he appreciated the work done by the UN’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi”.

Speaking at the UN, the Turkish Premier, Erdogan, likened Zionism to Nazism. What’s Italy’s response to that?

“Statements like that aren’t just surprising, they are also deeply saddening. The fact that animosity can exist towards a historic national movement that gave Judaism a sense of identity well before the Jewish diaspora was so dramatically cut down by the Holocaust, and that Zionism can be equated in such simplistic terms to Nazism, is truly shocking.

I say that because we need to be careful about labels. Especially when we’re making generalisations, about a movement that has an extremely important historic reach, by only seeing certain extreme simplifications that get wrongly linked to that historic dimension. I believe that international leaders, especially in the case of a great country like Turkey, must make these analyses with a sense of moderation and with the correct historical hindsight”.

With Hillary Clinton you had a special relationship that developed when you were Ambassador in Washington. What do you like about John Kerry?

“John Kerry is another friend from my days in Washington. As Ambassador, I was impressed by his air of authority, his in-depth knowledge of the most complex international issues. I’m sure that he’ll lead the Department of State most effectively, drawing on his great familiarity with the issues from his years as Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and as a great personality in American politics.

At the ‘Transatlantic’ meeting in Rome last week, which 36 foreign ministers attended, I was struck by his focus and his ability to grasp the most significant points of the discussion immediately. John Kerry is a great Secretary of State, and I’m sure that thanks to his input America will continue to play an increasingly influential role on the international stage.

The future of the UN. The Sicilians have a saying: megghiu lu tintu accanusciutu chi lu bonu d’accanusciri. Which means, “Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t”. In your opinion, is the United Nations, with all its faults, still better than the United Nations as they want to reform it? And is there such thing as a human right to truth? In international relations, in the UN, how much does truth count?

“The truth does indeed count, very much. We need only think of countries that have emerged from civil war, like those of Central America, or certain African countries. I’d also like to remind you of the report drawn up by the commission of Italian and German historians on the Nazi and Fascist massacres. Seeking the truth is a vital condition for the human spirit, to attain peace and reconciliation. It’s hard to imagine that civil wars can be overcome without an objective understanding of what happened. The narrative must not be a partisan narrative, it must be based on objective facts, on historical reality. And I believe that the UN has done excellent work in many and diverse situations to heal the wounds caused by civil war, as in Rwanda.

It’s an effort that cannot be completed quickly – the timescales are long. But wherever we have managed to establish a foundation of shared truth, those societies have become more stable. As Foreign Minister and as a diplomat, I view the United Nations as a beacon. Especially for the values expressed in its charter, the values of dialogue, co-existence and tolerance among peoples. I’m also convinced that the structure of the United Nations, as it was designed, continues to rest on very sound foundations, albeit with some obsolete elements. For example, the Security Council, with its permanent members holding the right of veto.

The Security Council needs to be reformed if it is to keep pace with the times. Participation needs to be expanded at the regional level: the European Union, in particular, needs to be able to speak with a more united and effective voice. But, as a whole, the United Nations represent a noble idea that continues to be highly relevant, while constantly evolving for the better. We need only consider the campaign on female genital mutilation or the moratorium on the death penalty. And then there are the new concepts of development partnerships, the idea of the ‘right to protect’ and the ‘responsibility’ to protect populations afflicted by criminal regimes; or the role of the International Criminal Court in recognising individuals’, as well as governments’, responsibilities in crimes against humanity. The international society that has been built, day by day, in the UN’s 60 years is a different and better society”.

You’ve also been an innovative Foreign Minister in the way the Farnesina communicates with citizens and with the world. Your e-book, “Caro Ministro”, has just come out: published entirely from suggestions and criticisms from discussions you’ve had on Twitter and Facebook. Can you explain the aim of this publication more fully?

“The aim is to conduct a more open foreign policy, without barriers to citizens. I’ve always been disappointed, as a diplomat and then as Minister, by the lack of interest in international policy issues. Insufficient attention from the media – which isn’t the case with you, of course. I remember a highly important visit to Libya. I was the first European foreign minister to visit Tripoli just after the new Libyan government had been installed. Well, I’ll refrain here, for the love of my country, from mentioning the number of major Italian newspapers that didn’t even realise that the Italian Government was signing highly important economic agreements in Libya.

That said, foreign policy can still be understood by citizens who, for personal or economic reasons, can’t venture beyond their national borders. If they’re properly informed, they can engage with the mechanisms and considerations that guide foreign policy. And we can ignite an interest in citizens in what’s happening in the world, events that influence their lives, and the lives of their families, each and every day.

That’s why I decided to “get on board” with social media, Facebook and Twitter, and to interact with this extraordinary meeting place, and the people who meet there. To understand the feelings behind individual cases too. I’ve received so many messages from Facebook friends about Italian nationals in need of help, victims of legal cases who could maybe have received more help from the government. Dialogue, therefore, with the Web public and with individuals too”.

So a suggestion for your successor would be to maintain an online presence?

“I’m sure that he or she will. It’s a fascinating, truly engaging job – in the best tradition of Italian foreign policy”.

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