“It is no secret that Libya is more on our minds than Syria. There has been no decision to bomb Iraq. Much less to hide it from or not inform the Parliament”. The place is Milan, Via Solferino, the offices of Corriere della Sera, and Minister Paolo Gentiloni winds up a day in Lombardy that began with his participation in a conference organized by the Institute of International Policy Studies (ISPI).
The Middle East, Russia, but also Europe. The foreign minister explains: “I have sent a letter to the colleagues of the five other founding members of the European Community – Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. Our proposal is to strengthen European integration using the most homogeneous bloc as leverage. The initial reactions have been positive and I think, therefore, that we six will be meeting in Rome in the coming months”.
Gentiloni continues on the mediation role that Italy could play in an “extremely difficult” situation. Iraq, Syria and Libya, in the end, are all part of the same emergency: the advance of the Islamic State and the humanitarian catastrophe of the migrants. The foreign minister starts off from Corriere della Sera’s report on October 6th that four Italian Tornados stationed in Kuwait were preparing to bombard ISIS objectives in Iraq. “We support the efforts of Iraqi Premier al-Abadi, as part of the “small group” of 21 countries engaged militarily of the total 63 that make up the coalition.
It is clear that if the Iraqi government wants to retake the Al Anbar region, which recently fell into the hands of the Islamic State, and then take Mosul back from the terrorists, greater efforts are going to be necessary. This is what the allies are discussing, we are considering what more can be done”. From Baghdad to Damascus. From support for a government asking for help to the difficult confrontation with the despotism of Bashar Al Assad. “Since the beginning of the crisis, the Italian government has considered it illusory to think that Assad could be sent away with bombs. The right approach, the only realistic one, is that of transition: an “Assad change, not a regime change, convincing Assad to step down, but without creating a power void that would make it easy for the terrorists to step in”. The problem, if anything, is to understand how and when it is going to be possible to marginalise Assad. In that sense the Russian intervention is a variable with possibly devastating consequences capable even of triggering – as many observers have said – a world war. Gentiloni attempts to calculate the risk: “Up until seven, eight days ago Russia’s involvement in Syria was viewed as a positive contribution, considering the close relations between President Putin and Assad. Even Obama, after his meeting with Putin at the United Nations, seemed ready to entertain the possibility of cooperation between the United States and Russia in the context of countering ISIS in Syria. Certainly the latest events, their trespassing into Turkey and the lack of coordination on which targets to strike, are creating the risk that Russia’s ends up aggravating the situation even further. That is why I emphasise the transition process, which was also proposed, moreover, by the UN envoy for Syria”.
Russia also means Ukraine. In January, the European Union is going to have to decide whether to extend or cancel the sanctions. “I am hoping very much that the sanctions can be cancelled. But I am not predicting anything in early October. There is time, at least until December, and the conditions are clear: if Russia does not apply the Minks accords [among other things, restoring the eastern borders to Kiev, editor’s note] we will be in favour of the sanctions”.
Italy is not in the forefront when it comes to Syria. And it is unlikely that it will be in the coming months. “It is no secret that Libya is more on our minds than Syria”. Premier Matteo Renzi has claimed a “guiding role” in the “stabilization” of Tripoli. Gentiloni is following the negotiations being conducted by UN envoy Bernardino León in Skhirat Morocco. “I was there a few days ago, and I found an atmosphere still rife with division. But there is also the well-founded hope that the Libyan factions will soon be able to agree on the formation of a national unity government”. That would be “the point of departure” for an international intervention. The notion has long existed of an anti-people trafficking mission led by Italy under the aegis of the UN. “We and our allies are assessing various ideas, let’s say on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 does not, however, mean sending thousands of soldiers into the Libyan desert. Moreover, the agreement with Iran has loosened tensions among regional powers also in Libya”.
The sufferings of the conflict have arrived in Europe on the faces of the refugees. The foreign minister notes “with satisfaction” that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is open to going beyond the Dublin Accords that say asylum seekers must be hosted in the country in which they first arrive. “We made some progress with the latest summits on the subject of distributing reception efforts. We are now working on achieving three objectives over the medium term: 1) establishing permanent voluntary quotas on the subdivision of the refugees among the 28 EU members; 2) gradually establishing common asylum rules; 3) setting common repatriation policies for migrants that do not have a right to asylum”. A better integrated Europe is needed also for these reasons, one that forges a new pact with Great Britain but still goes forward. “I grew up with the idea of a Europe of two speeds, while perhaps today the time has come to build a Union of two concentric circles. The nucleus of the common currency is capable of being reinforced on various planes, including the military”. Italy is now proposing to start again with the six founders – a meeting in Rome, the city of the first treaty.