"UNESCO’s denial of the connection between Judaism and the holy sites in Jerusalem is absurd, but it has been going on for years. The number of countries shifting their votes from yes to abstain is increasing," said Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in an interview with the daily newspaper Corriere. Continuing on the issue of Italy abstaining on the vote, Minister Gentiloni said: "I talked about it with Renzi. At the next vote in April, Italy will change its attitude.” About Russia, he said: "Sanctions cannot be a screen behind which to hide difficulties."
Minister Gentiloni, was it a mistake abstaining on the UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem?
UNESCO’s denial of the connection between Judaism and the holy sites in Jerusalem is absurd, but it has been going on for years. Italy decided to abstain on the vote for the 11th time.Diplomats are currently discussing whether the best way to fight this absurdity would be working to reduce the consensus on the resolution, that is by showing one’s own disagreement as Italy has done so far, like the U.S., Britain and Germany. I would like to point out that for the first time this year the abstaining countries were more than the ones in favour: the vote was 27 abstaining, 23 in favour and six against. The amount of countries shifting their votes from yes to abstain, including France and Sweden, increased by approximately ten from the previous vote. I realise that this diplomatic approach was not understood and that the choice hurt the sensitivity of many. I talked about it with Renzi. At the next vote in April, Italy will change its attitude.”
A reference to sanctions on Russia over Syria was dropped into the Brussels summit communique'. Is this an Italian success or a sign of weakness?
"I would say it is the success of common sense, to which Italy has made a decisive contribution. It is peculiar that a political battle had to be waged within the European Council, to go back to the way the communique' was formulated four days earlier with the unanimous consensus of all Foreign Ministers. Does it mean we are blind and deaf to the humanitarian tragedy in eastern Aleppo? Quite the opposite. The question here is whether sanctions on Moscow over Syria would end the bombing. Sanctions cannot be a screen behind which to hide our difficulties. Today everyone agrees on a course, though arduous, towards a diplomatic solution and a political transition, an approach that Italy has always been supporting. This is why we stand by the efforts undertaken by John Kerry and Staffan de Mistura."
How can Russia be made to change its attitude?
"We should press Moscow into making a careful cost-benefit analysis to understand up to what extent it is sustainable for the Federation to support the Assad regime and its attempt to conquer eastern Aleppo by razing it to the ground. Russia must understand that by continuing along this line it will have to face the hostility of the entire Sunni community, governments and public opinion in the region. Moreover it would undermine what the Kremlin considers as its most important result: due to the Syrian crisis Russia has acquired a leading role together with the United States of America. I believe that the resumption of talks in Lausanne is proof that Russia is aware of the risk. Examining the merits of the situation, resolving the problem of Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda linked jihadist group, is the key. Al-Nusra must be separated from anti-government rebels. In this respect Moscow has a point, but it must guarantee both the ending of the bombing and the massacre."
At the summit in Brussels our requests on budget flexibility were not accepted.
"We should never indulge in representations that are far from the truth. We did not discuss decimal points of the deficit-GDP ratio of our budget at the European Council. Talks are underway with the Commission as to the commitment Italy has been asked for, and they are likely to continue for weeks. I am confident that we will finally get to a positive result. By focusing on a variety of issues, we seem to be losing sight of the main question - immigration. This is where we are struggling: unless the EU changes its course of action, it will not be able to manage the crisis of the next few months. Commitments must be honoured, but for the first time discussions almost seem to imply that decisions made may not be implemented. I am referring to relocations. This provision by itself cannot solve the question of migration flows, but not fulfilling our obligations in this respect would put the credibility of Europe at risk. No steps forward were made regarding all the other issues. We advance slowly: we proposed the migration compact in January, but it was only last week that a first 500 million euros contribution was made available.”
The battle of Mosul in Iraq has opened a new phase in the fight against ISIS. What will the next steps be?
"It is a major quantum leap. Freeing Dabiq has a symbolic meaning since it was a city-symbol for Daesh. Losing it was a major blow for ISIS. Conditions exist for the freeing of Mosul and then Raqqa, in Syria in the next few months. The main nodes are what forces will take the lead, who will manage the post-situation, how we will guarantee coexistence. Italy is carrying out important tasks and is ready to continue doing so. The point here is that the liberation of those territories will mark the end of the self-declaring State of Daesh. When this happens, the appeal jihadists have to foreign fighters and lone wolves will end, decreasing the risk of terrorist attacks.”