Italy’s diplomatic focus on the Korean peninsula deserves a mention of its own. It takes into account all the many implications, global as well as regional, of the North Korean nuclear crisis. In the European Union framework, Italy has always played a prominent role. Most notably, even during the most difficult periods it has sought not just to encourage a more active EU role to support the six-way negotiations, but also to take forward the inter-Korean dialogue and prevent North Korea from being totally cut off from the international community.
Italy’s committed effort to achieve the pacification and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula has, over the years, attracted growing recognition from the main regional actors. During Minister D’Alema’s visit to South Korea in early February 2007, and during the South Korean President’s visit to Rome in mid-February and that of Prime Minister Prodi to Seoul on 18-19 April, we garnered considerable recognition for the role we have played in recent years. This encompassed the fact that Italy was the first G7 country, in 2000, to establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, as well as the other important initiatives we have undertaken.
Of these, the following are worthy of note. The mission by then Foreign Minister Dini to Pyongyang in March 2000; the EU Troika mission, under the Italian Presidency, to Pyongyang in 2003, with a symbolic crossing of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ); and the shuttle diplomacy conducted by former Secretary of State Boniver, with her 2005 mission to Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang in an attempt—largely successful—to bring an end to a period of deep distrust between the key actors in the process.
A new and important stage in this process was the mission by Secretary of State Vernetti to North Korea and South Korea in September 2007. The Secretary of State was the first member of a G7 government (apart from the American negotiator, Christopher Hill), to visit North Korea in the last two years. The aim of his visit was not just to confirm Italy’s traditional, long-standing commitment to support the inter-Korean dialogue, but also to leverage the initiatives Italy intends to promote both bilaterally and in the EU and UN spheres.
As a confidence-building measure, Italy presented North Korea with an important package of cooperation initiatives in the food, health and cultural sectors.
These can be summarised as follows:
- €1 million in food aid
- €1.3 million in medical assistance programmes through UNICEF and the WHO
- €750,000 to restore the Koguryo tombs
- appointment of an Italian “reader” at the University of Pyongyang
Also significant are the annual international seminars Italy has been organising since 2002 on the subject of the Korean Peninsula. The latest of these was held in Como in March 2007, in the presence of officials and experts.
Since 1 January 2007, in addition to being a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Italy has held the Presidency of the Sanctions Committee on North Korea. The Committee’s role is to oversee compliance with the sanctions envisaged by Security Council Resolution 1718. We hope, naturally, that in the new climate that has been created the sanctions can be removed as soon as possible, with a decision to that effect by the Security Council and the international community.