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“They’re badly informed. That port has handed toxic substances before”, says Bonino

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino says that “all options are on the table” in the case of Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, the two Navy riflemen accused of murder and detained in India. Especially if the law on which the accusation is based envisages the death penalty. The options include an offensive to prevent New Delhi from obtaining a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council: a promotion to “power” status that is close to Indian government hearts.


In this interview, Bonino also describes the choice of the port of Gioia Tauro for the ship-to-ship transfer of the material from Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. A choice that has provoked strong protest. “The Mayor of Gioia Tauro”, observes Minister Bonino, “does not, perhaps, have all of the information at his disposal. In 2013, the port handled 29,802 tons, in 1,508 containers, of category 6.1 toxic substances. The same category as the material arriving from Syria, which involves 560 tons that is simply to be transferred”.


Let’s start with the two marines. Has Italy’s petition to the Indian Supreme Court to unblock the trial changed anything?


“We’ve asked the Supreme Court to clarify why the NIA [ed.’s note: India’s counter-terrorism agency, the National Investigation Agency] has not acted on the recommendations of the Court itself, which on 18 January 2013 set July of that year as the date for the trial to start. The fact is that India’s attitude has now changed: the Foreign Minister has expressed his embarrassment and the difference of opinion between the Foreign Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry has emerged publicly”.


How might the Court respond?


“It could reiterate that the Sua Act [ed’s note: the law envisaging the death penalty for terrorists] does not apply to the riflemen”.


And if the Indians decide to proceed on the basis of the Sua Act, is Italy ready to respond?


“If that happens, all of the options are on the table. Tomorrow [17 January] the government will hold a new meeting of the ‘marines team’, with Enrico Letta, Staffan de Mistura, the state legal advisers and representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs and Justice. The team was set up with the precise aim of avoiding inertia and preventing anyone from taking a ‘prima donna’ role. A method with which I fully agree”.


But is the government ready to “internationalise” the issue?


“At the diplomatic level it’s already internationalised. If anything, we need to step it up, but the issue is no longer purely an Italian one. The European Union is involved – the EU Foreign Ministers’ Council has been engaged for some time – and the Americans are involved. I’ve written a letter to Navanethem Pillay [ed.’s note: the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] to explore the situation. And other roads remain to be explored, in addition to that of halting the free trade talks between the EU and India: more political roads”.


For example? Do the options include possible initiatives on the UN reform?


“We hope it doesn’t get to that stage. But India’s conduct in the marines’ case certainly doesn’t facilitate the situation in the eyes of the international community. Certain international questions are not making much progress: we can slow them down even more”.


A parliamentary delegation is set to leave for Delhi. A positive step?


“If they go as a team, led by the chairpersons of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, it’s positive. If we’re back to a ‘prima donna’ situation, then it’s not”.


In Italy, some people plan to boycott the celebrations for [India’s] Republic Day on 24 [sic] January.


“There’s nothing wrong with expressing your deep dissatisfaction. The things that annoy me are the insults and crass comments voiced against me by people and parties whose responsibilities in this affair are far greater than mine”.


Let’s move on to Gioia Tauro. The mayor says he’ll oppose the decision.


“I didn’t make this choice, but it seems to me that as far as the requirements are concerned, Gioia Tauro fits the bill. It’s a port with excellent facilities and Minister Lupi’s reasons for the choice seem convincing”.


But what about the dangers?


“Safety and security will be our utmost concern throughout the operation. But just to be clear: we’re talking here about toxic materials, not chemical weapons. In the containers, the chemical agents and trigger mechanisms are obviously stored separately. They are transformed into weapons only if they’re placed together, usually in the rocket warhead. The transfer, which will entail moving the material from one dock to another, with no storage involved, will take about 48 hours”.


When?


“The operations have already been delayed, because of problems in Syria. The transfer to the US ship, the Cape Ray, should take place in late January–early February, in Gioia Tauro. The Cape Ray will then destroy the material in international waters, using hydrolysis. The residual material will be taken to Germany and Great Britain for conversion into substances that can be used in industry”.


But did we really need to agree for the weapons to pass through an Italian port?


“From the outset, we’ve adopted a line envisaging an international effort for the biggest chemical weapons destruction operation we’ve seen in ten years. Having achieved that, countries with a sense of responsibility need to take part. Just as Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway and other countries are taking part”.