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Interview with Paolo Gentiloni – “Obama’s legacy is the fight against inequalities”

Mr Minister, there was a special feeling also between Bush and Berlusconi: what makes it different from the one between Obama and Renzi?

“The connection between Renzi an Obama is not only based on a geopolitical convenience but on an analogy of ideals. They have a similar way of seeing the problems of the world.”

How does Obama see Italy?

“He is very worried about the future of the EU and believes that Italy is essential in European dynamics and a possible driver in relaunching the Union.”

The Obama Administration has repeatedly asserted the need to favour growth policies and also talked about Italy’s affairs in his last meeting with Renzi. To what extent is the support of a traditional ally helpful?  

“I don’t think that it will shift votes in the elections. This type of influence disappeared decades ago. However, the alignment with the President can only be positive on the front of foreign policy and in taking a common stance on the economic crisis. Obama inherited the most serious crisis since the war. He responded with public funding interventions and promoted quantitative easing measures, thereby boosting development and jobs. Europe should follow this type of growth model. Yet, Obama himself recognises that not enough has been done: globalisation must have a positive effect on everybody, it must protect the middle classes and not make rich only 1% of the population. If globalisation fails to distribute benefits, it generates resentment, hatred for trade agreements, closures, the wish to put up walls and fuels populism.”

How would you summarise your geopolitics?

“It has produced a gigantic strategic revision of the role of the US in the world. It was not a withdrawal but the correction of breakaway decisions paid at high price.”

However, his legacy also includes a Country, Iraq, in which the US’s withdrawal in 2011 enabled ISIS to expand…

“The US President was coherent: during his election campaign he promised to withdraw the troops and he kept his promise. The responsibility for this is to be traced well before Obama’s decisions; his Administration remedied mistakes that were not his. What some have described as a ‘reluctant self-referencing America’ is an America that adjusted its leadership to the real world following the interventionist drift that cost a bunch of money and that solved nothing in conflict scenarios. Today instead, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers less, stabilisation processes and fighting terrorism have progressed.”

However, relations with Russia have cooled down and Italy was often drawn into the picture, squeezed between being loyal to a NATO ally and the need to not lose contacts with Moscow. How have you managed this situation?

“We have always been coherent and shown full solidarity to NATO; we spurred the allied coalition towards dialogue and avoiding conflict.”

However, lately tension between Washington and Moscow has worsened.

“This is undoubted: unfortunately, the 2009 hopes for a “reset” that would transform relations between the West and Russia into a strategic partnership have dissolved. We are faced with the threat of radical nationalism and certainly not a new Cold War, and this is not only in respect of Russia.”  

Rome is often at a crossroads of important meetings on Libya and Syria. Don’t you think that the US have been insufficiently responsive on Libya?

“Obama defined the 2011 intervention in Libya as a wrong decision. Americans then suffered the consequences of the incident with US Ambassador Stevens, who was killed by terrorists in Benghazi. It is for this reason that Hillary Clinton was subjected to a Congress investigation which then boiled down to nothing. In the past two years, the US have gone back to holding a leadership position. The little or much that we obtained in stabilising Libya is mostly due to John Kerry’s efforts.”  

Obama leaves with Syria still in war. In 2013 he gave up on the idea of striking Assad despite his having crossed the «red line» with the use of chemical weapons. Was that a mistake?

“No, I think it was a hard but good decision; we too thought the military solution would be unwise.”

Rome and Washington went through a moment of difficulty when humanitarian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto was killed in the «misfired» raid in Pakistan. Did it deteriorate relations?

“America behaved like a great democracy; it immediately acknowledged the mistake and apologised to Italy and to his family – to the extent possible, seeing that a human life had been lost.”

How much have Kerry and Obama supported Italy on the Regeni case?

“Unfortunately the vision propounded by Obama in his famous speech at Cairo University and the hope instilled by the Arab Springs, have not become reality. We must acknowledge this – which does not however justify an excess of realpolitik. The United States always report serious human rights violations as the one of which Giulio Regeni was a victim.”

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