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September 11, 2002
Italy's Berlusconi to back U.S. on Iraq war
UPI SpecialCorrespondent
ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave support to the possibility of U.S.-led military action against Iraq, as the leader again
cast himself as one of the United States' closest allies in Europe.

Writing an 800-word letter published in the high-brow conservative daily newspaper Il Foglio Wednesday, Berlusconi echoed some of
the charges against Iraq made by U.S. President George W. Bush and other officials in recent days, and he described Italy as a "loyal
and respectful ally" of the United States.

The letter coincides with the Italian leader's trip to New York, where he planned to take part in several of the memorials scheduled to
commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. On Friday, Berlusconi
is expected to fly to Washington and hold a closed-door meeting with the president on Saturday at Camp David, Md.

"The Iraqi regime has systematically violated United Nations obligations over the past five years," Berlusconi wrote. "Either things will
change or it will be necessary to act determinedly, using all diplomatic and political means possible including the option of military force."

Berlusconi also called the United States the "chief source of security and stability in the world," and said that Bush understands that "one
can be reckless by moving too quickly, but (that) one can also leave it too late to take action."

He wrote that if other options are exhausted, a military alternative was logical.

"Democracies have not only the right but also the obligation to defend themselves," the letter concluded.

Since the United States began discussing the possibility of attacking Iraq, Berlusconi has tried to balance the European Union's calls for
increased diplomatic efforts to defuse friction between Baghdad and Washington with the desire to cast Italy in the role of the United
States' "special friend" in continental Europe -- all the while sidestepping charges at home that he had become a U.S. puppet.

"Berlusconi is trying a difficult balancing act because he is trying to serve three masters," Massimo Arno, a political scientist with Roma
Tre University, told United Press International. "So far he has managed to do a fairly good job ... but his effectiveness is compromised to
some degree because he can't follow through completely."

Last week, Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said Italy would support military action against Iraq only if a clear link between Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein and last year's Sept. 11 attacks was established. That view has been echoed by most European leaders, aside
from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But Berlusconi's comments seemed to contradict Martino's remarks.

Officials from Berlusconi's office were traveling with the premier and unable to answer questions about the apparent contradiction.
Martino's spokesman did not return phone calls from UPI seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Italians in general appear to be satisfied with the country's stance regarding the possibility of U.S. military action in Iraq,
though pollsters say that could change when and if an attack begins.

"So far, most Italians seem to feel comfortable with the government's efforts to please both Brussels and Washington," Maria Rossi,
co-director of the polling firm Opinioni, told UPI. "Right now, any rift is perceived. What is important is how opinion reacts once bombing
of Baghdad starts, and Italy has to clearly take one side or the other."
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