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“People are engaging in demagoguery over the corpses in the sea but Italy is not driven by self-interest”, says Gentiloni (Repubblica)

“People peddling demagoguery against the migrants are not solving anything. And luckily most Italians aren’t being taken in by them. But I don’t want to get into political arguments”. On the day when the photos of the ‘dots in the sea’ are hitting the front pages of the international press after the umpteenth disaster in the Channel of Sicily, with hundreds of human beings drowned, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni underscores: “We have sent the world an image of people who, in spite of the difficulties, are taking on the task of rescuing those in need. On our Schengen borders we’re witnessing scenes that are a monument to self-interest”.

Minister, has the EU made any progress on the immigration front?

“Yes, but Europe’s response still falls far short of what its own standards of civilisation would require”.

Can the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) mission to combat the people trafficking be a first step to resolving the chaos in the Mediterranean?”

“We need to be clear that there’s no imminent military mission in Libya. We’re focusing on the internal political dynamics. The naval mission has a limited goal: that of combating and neutralising the trafficking in human beings. A traffic that is causing migrants to die in the Mediterranean”.

What’s needed, in addition to EU action?

“We need to see progress in the negotiations by the Libyans. The agreement signed in Morocco on 12 July by the Tobruk parliament and the Misurata and Zintan elements, and the municipalities in the Tripoli region, is a good start. It should convince the General National Congress (GNC) to take part. In Algiers I told the GNC president, Nouri Abusahmain: ‘without you, the agreement will be weaker, but don’t think that your absence will prevent it’. Next week the UN envoy, Bernardino Leon, will reconvene the talks to examine the annexes to the agreement. I hope the GNC decides to take part”.

Returning to the migrants, is the EU ready to play its part in terms of reception measures?

“Any Community dimension that exists to addressing the immigration problem is undoubtedly Italian in origin. And we must claim the merit for that. After the tragedy at sea 5 months ago, Renzi called for an extraordinary EU summit and a European immigration agenda was drawn up. That gave rise to the joint operations we’ve seen in recent months and the relocation of 32,000 migrants. Of course, all of this comes nowhere near matching the extent of the problem. From Calais to Ventimiglia, we risk seeing tensions between major European countries over the transit of just a few hundred people”.

What else can Europe do?

“We are well aware that the only successful measures over the long-term are measures that help the migrants’ countries of origin. But we need a common effort in terms of receiving them. At the European level, we need to reiterate that what is affecting Italy and Greece today could involve other countries in the north of the Union tomorrow. Suffice to think of the Ukrainian crisis to grasp that. Closing our eyes or, worse, building walls is not a fitting response for the European Union”.

You’re just back from a mission to Tehran. How would you sum it up?

“Over the coming months and years it will be in the West’s interest to place its bets on Iran. The 14 July agreement is not just about monitoring Tehran’s nuclear programme. It’s also about recognising a country of Iran’s importance to the political and economic dimension of the region. In the immediate term the acceptance of the agreement in different forms in the USA and in Iran itself will be decisive. Between December and January the main sanctions will be withdrawn: important opportunities are opening up on the economic front. Just a few years ago Italy had trade worth 7 billion euro with Iran and we were the country’s leading commercial partner. Today, trade is worth just 1.5 billion. But you don’t cancel out relations that have sixty years of history behind them. The agreements are being drawn up, with one by FATA, from the Finmeccanica group, already complete. SACE has signed a dispute resolution agreement enabling credit worth up to 3 billion euro to resume, and ENI has almost resolved the on-going disputes in which it is involved. Moreover, Iran appreciated the format of our visit, with politics running parallel with business”.

Why is Italy, which has always enjoyed this relationship with Iran, not part of the 5+1 grouping?

“About 12 years ago the government decided not to take part. I think that was an error, but it didn’t prevent Italy from playing a diplomatic role. Our country doesn’t have a hidden political agenda or desire for hegemony. Italy has a strong propensity for trade and commerce, and is a cultural superpower. That enables us to achieve 2 results. One is to reassure the countries in the region, with which we have excellent relations, on the implementation of the agreement – I’m thinking here of Israel and Saudi Arabia. And the other is to seek, together, to involve Iran in regional dossiers such as Syria or Lebanon. Tehran could have an important role to play in combating terrorism”.

You’ve just met your Saudi colleague. A number of commentators have accused Riyadh of supporting radical Islam and terrorism perpetrated by Da’esh, the so-called Islamic State. What do you think?

“Saudi Arabia definitely does not sponsor terrorism. On the contrary, it’s a target for action by Da’esh. Within Sunni Islam a mortal conflict is being waged between Da’esh and the Al Qaeda movements on the one hand and, on the other, the governments of the countries who act as custodians of the holy places. Economic relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia are excellent, as is collaboration on the various regional crises. All of this will be discussed again during the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Riyadh”.

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