We are in “a race against time” in Libya, but if we are not able to stablise the country counter-terrorism operations going to be necessary to contain ISIS and to stem the tide of migrants. Turkey’s reaction to the Pope’s words on the Armenian genocide is “disproportionate”, but Ankara must remain on its path toward Europe. Italy “does not accept lessons” on the sanctions against Moscow for its action in Ukraine, but if the Minsk accords continue to be applied, “it will be necessary to send a signal” and reduce them. Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni comments in a wide-ranging interview for Corriere della Sera in the margins of the meeting of G7 foreign ministers that concluded today in Lübeck. Gentiloni delivered a report this morning to the heads of Western diplomacy on the Libyan crisis.
“The message of the G7 is that we are not resigned to the idea that stabilisation is impossible. A strong diplomatic effort therefore needs to come from our countries to convince the parties and regional actors to form a more inclusive government based on UN envoy Bernardino Leon’s proposal. Only upon this minimal basis is Italy prepared to be a “framework nation”, the country that coordinates the European and G7 camps, in collaboration with Arabs and Africans, making our forces available to monitor and stabilise this process. But we haven’t got months ahead of us. The two-fold risk of the advance of Daesh [ISIS, editor’s note] and unchecked migration are forcing us into a race against time. I repeat, I am not resigned, agreement is possible but we are talking about weeks”.
If political accord cannot be achieved in Libya over the short term, which is the indisputable pre-requisite for international action, is there a plan B — that is, immediate security measures capable of containing Daesh and controlling the migrant situation?
«There are alternative plans for containing the threats, but we are not talking about plans B».
What are we talking about? The defence of strategic sites, ground interventions where the smugglers are gathering refugees?
«We are talking about targeted counter-terrorism activities, for example in the context of the anti-Daesh coalition, counter-people smuggling actions and collaboration on the reception of refugees from nearby countries. It is clear that these activities would only be for the purpose of containment aimed at limiting the risk of these problems spreading toward us and Europe. The stabilisation of Libya and having a government in which we can invest over the long term is another thing, and that is what we discussed in the G7. Attempts at stabilisation must be thoroughly explored while, nevertheless, keeping the time factor in mind».
What are you asking, concretely, from the EU on the migration front?
«Two things: the first, to work on the areas where the crisis originates. We must not forget that the people arriving on those boats are not Libyans, they are using Libya but are coming from Syria, the Horn of Africa, and the swath that includes Mali, Niger and the Central African Republic. Much is being done with the EU on this count. Secondly, where there has been no adequate response thus far is on surveillance and rescue at sea, for which we bear 90% of the burden. The EU spends 3 million euro a month on the Triton operation. In reality Italy handles all the operations. The problem is Europe’s, but the remedy is solely Italian. Something’s wrong, even though I acknowledge that Commissioners Avramopoulos, Timmermans and Federica Mogherini are aware of the problem».
So, concretely we are asking…
«For more money, first of all. And then there is another more delicate problem: rescue at sea begs the question of where the survivors are to be sent, to the nearest safe port? To the country of origin of the ship that rescues them? The EU has to make a clear ruling».
The Turkish government reacted harshly to the Pope’s words on the Armenian genocide. The West is on the brink of a diplomatic crisis with Ankara. The topic reopens the question of Turkey’s EU accession. What is Italy’s position?
«I see that the Turkish authorities continue to take positions that I consider disproportionate. The stance of the Holy See goes back to the times of John Paul II. Turkey’s EU integration into the EU has been marked by significant difficulties and one of the issues has been its attitude toward Yerevan, on which until a few months ago there seemed to have been encouraging signs. Our position has always been one of openness. I believe that should be maintained in the interests of Europe, because Turkey is a nation of 80 million people and its positive evolution could be encouraged, if not by its entry over the short term, by its pursuance of that objective».
Let’s talk about Ukraine, is Italy being too soft on Moscow?
«The truce agreed on at Minsk has not suffered dramatic or atrocious violations, despite the tensions of recent days. Stabilisation requires strengthening of the ceasefire and the OSCE’s monitoring of borders. That depends on the Russians. At the same time, Ukraine needs to launch a process of economic and constitutional reform that grants substantial autonomy to the eastern regions. Italy is among those saying that, if in the course of the coming months, there are positive developments in this sense, it would only be right to send a signal on the sanctions front, which we have always said were reversible. It is still too early to tell, but to those who see this position as too “soft” I would say that we do not accept lessons from anyone on the rigour with which we apply sanctions, which is no less than that of other European countries, if anything it is the opposite. Surely we, along with Germany, are suffering their greatest economic consequences».