Minister Giulio Terzi, tensions are back on the rise in Iran. Although Italy is often regarded with a certain measure of suspicion by its Atlantic partners for its ties with Teheran, can it play a role in defusing the crisis?
«Italy is making a major contribution to what has become a solid European and trans-Atlantic policy founded on a two-track principle consisting of strengthened sanctions on the one hand, and an open door to dialogue on the other. In other words, the sanctions are not an end in themselves, but a means for convincing Iran to shift its nuclear stance from a confrontational to a cooperative one».
Are new sanctions necessary?
«After the publication of the IAEA’s new report, we are convinced that the pressure needs ratcheting up. The EU will have to decide on this at the end of January. Sanctions are also being considered in the financial and oil sector, and Italy is in agreement».
And what to do about Syria? The repression continues with surgical efficiency...
«We are deeply concerned about the steady escalation of violence in Syria; the cessation of repression is an absolute priority. First and foremost, the observers must be allowed to do their job; then there is the urgent need for a firm and clear decision from the Security Council. The Arab League’s peace plan is the best route to stopping the violence, and we demand its full and immediate implementation».
We are coming up on the first anniversary of the Arab spring, yet tensions remain high in Egypt and Libya. What can Europe do to aid the growth of democracy in those countries?
«As Europe, we have the specific responsibility to sustain the Arab spring movements and encourage the gradual strengthening of democracy. It is true that the process in some countries, such as Egypt for example, has not been linear, and we are seeing the return of friction and violence. But we believe that both Egypt and Libya are on the right road »
Are you sure of that? A democratic outcome appears to be at risk.
«Complete internal coalescence was neither an easy, nor a probable, prospect in the immediate wake of revolutions sweeping away decades of dictatorship. We need to be patient – while steadfastly maintaining our principles – and resolute in our efforts. I have planned a series of bilateral missions for the first three weeks of January that include Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, which will offer a major opportunity to open a broad-based dialogue with the new political forces».
The fall of the Arab regimes — Egypt and Iraq for instance — has generated new hostilities against Christian communities, even in Nigeria. Hasn’t the West underestimated this aspect?
«It is undeniable that we must keep our guard up. The defence of human rights is central not only to our foreign policy, but to our national and European identity. I have already expressed my firm condemnation of the recent episodes in Nigeria and asked EU High Representative Ashton to include the topic of religious freedom on the agenda of the next EU Council of Foreign Ministers ».
Yet another Italian ship has been abducted, demonstrating the international community’s great difficulty in containing Somali piracy. Are purely defensive measures enough?
«It is true that this phenomenon is increasingly troubling, but the number of successful assaults on ships off the Somali coasts has dropped significantly over the past year, thanks to EU and NATO patrols. Piracy, in any case, is a complex phenomenon that calls for complex strategies».
Wouldn’t it be better to invest more in making the Somali central authorities more effective on the ground?
«Yes, in the final analysis piracy has to be confronted on the ground. That explains the importance of international stabilisation efforts in countries such as Somalia, and even Yemen, to which Italy is making an outstanding contribution with security forces training and capacity building».