“International pressure will grow day by day in intensity and force. With one goal only: to isolate the regime. To weaken it. To leave it no breathing space”. Franco Frattini is musing aloud on the Libyan scenario. He reveals that any time now an African Union delegation will be meeting the Colonel in Tripoli to ask him once again to leave his post. He recalls the increasingly decisive pressure from the Arab League. And then, in a low voice, he hazards a prediction: “No reasonable person could imaging staying, in this situation”.
As we listen to the Foreign Minister just one thought passes through our heads: how long will it take to overturn the Libyan leader? Frattini’s reply comes with no hesitation: “If Muammar Gaddafi’s idea is really to die with all the ‘philistines’, then it could take days more, weeks more, even. But one thing needs to be clear: our decision is irreversible. Absolutely irreversible. We go on until the regime is overturned”.
It’s already dark. Frattini has been speaking at length with Berlusconi on his return from the summit in Paris. “This is a time for responsibility. And confirming Italy’s commitment was the right decision, because our international prestige was at stake and we most certainly couldn’t run the risk of being marginalised”. And because “if the consequence of the Libyan fighting were truly to be a wave of migrants, Italy would have an extraordinary additional argument up its sleeve to demand burden-sharing by Europe”.
Agreement by all the EU states on the influx of refugees…
Yes. And just think if we’d held back, if we’d stood watching from the sidelines… We’d have to tackle the wave of immigrants and we’d have no “just title” to ask the other countries of the Union to share the burden with us. But now we’re in the front line and Europe won’t be able to say to Italy: “deal with it”. Do you want to know the truth? This is an argument that even the Northern League can, indeed will have to, appreciate.
The toppling of Ben Ali seems to have greatly increased arrivals from Tunisia.
The true problem is the easing of checks and controls. On Tuesday [22 March] Maroni [Interior Minister] and I will almost certainly be in Tunisia to draw up a bilateral agreement. We’ll be meeting the new prime minister. We’re ready to provide concrete help; we’ve released 90 million euros; Italian ships stand ready to patrol the Tunisian coastline… But we’re seeking guarantees that this traffic in human beings will be blocked.
Did the EU allocate the 90 million euros?
No, the Italian Foreign Ministry did. We asked Europe how much it had available for the countries on the immigration front line. Their answer was 25 million euros. For all of Europe. For all 27 countries.
That’s utterly ridiculous.
Yes, it’s ridiculous. But this Europe is selfish and heedless and any idea of solidarity is still faint indeed.
So what now?
So we can’t put forward any argument that veers towards disengagement. Once Italy becomes truly indispensable in managing and conducting a mission of this importance, then we’re negotiating from a position of strength. If you negotiate and you’re just sitting there looking out of the window, nobody even takes you into consideration. That’s the ruthless logic of international politics.
Casini says that France and Great Britain have stolen the leading role, including in trade relations with Libya.
I don’t think that role could be maintained at the price of supporting Gaddafi, and not at the cost of breaking the united international front. We did well to follow the international coalition approach, to keep Europe united… And right now, in Benghazi, the population know perfectly well how close Italy is to the Libyan people in their suffering. And they know that, unlike others, we’ve turned our backs on our colonial past. And then…
And then what, Minister?
What’s been created is a coalition. And in a coalition there’s a clear principle to be respected: decisions must be agreed upon and choices must be truly multilateral. But now we’re just at stage one; for stage two NATO needs to take the lead.
Berlusconi says that for the time being only Italy’s bases are in play?
Without the Italian bases this mission would be less effective. It would all be different. Everyone’s got aircraft, but the bases are ours by a gift of geography. Taking off from an aircraft carrier in the middle of the sea is one thing; from a well-equipped military base it’s another thing altogether.
Is Fini taking issue with you and talking about a decision taken too late?
Gadaffi’s tanks have been proceeding faster than the UN resolution but that’s diplomacy for you. Fini has been foreign minister in the past, after all… Maybe the resolution could have been approved sooner but we needed to obtain a broad consensus and above all involve the Arab League countries.
Minister, what would you say to Gadaffi?
To think of the Libyan people and hand over power. To leave the stage. He could take refuge in an African Union country and enable a national reconciliation process to begin. The opposition in Benghazi is not hostile to resuming contact with the various Libyan tribes but there’s a pre-condition: it’s not possible to negotiate with someone who’s opened fire on his own people.