Italy's new prime minister brings a fresh approach
to bilateral relations
Posted 7/14/2006 9:55 AM ET
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME — This weekend's Group of Eight summit in Russia gives President Bush a chance
to meet Italy's newly installed prime minister for the first time since Romano Prodi took office.
And while both sides agree the U.S.-Italy alliance remains strong, Prodi has shown he is
willing to move away from the blatantly pro-U.S. policies of predecessor Silvio Berlusconi.
Italy's relationship with the United States was one of the central issues of the election that
Prodi's forces narrowly won in April. Since then, the new prime minister has regularly stressed
his pro-American credentials.
"I have never had anything but a strong relationship with the United States: I stood shoulder to
shoulder with President Clinton when I was prime minister the first time (between 1996 and
1998) and I have worked well with President Bush when I was European Commission
president," Prodi said in an interview with USA TODAY shortly after the election.
At the same time, Prodi's government has made it clear that the alliance with the United States
will not guide Italy's foreign policy.
The government in June officially announced a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of Italian
troops from Iraq: Italy has said it would pull its remaining 2,600 troops out of Iraq by the end
of the year. This month, Parliament also will vote on the future of the 1,300 Italian troops in
Afghanistan. The war in Iraq has been unpopular with the Italian public since the onset,
according to the polling firm Opinioni, which reported on July 5 that opposition to the war in Italy was nearly 80% and has never been
The Foreign Ministry in June asked the United States to send U.S. soldier Mario Lozano to Italy to stand trial for the shooting death of
Italian agent Nicola Calipari in Baghdad during the rescue of an Italian held hostage by Iraqi insurgents. The United States says the
shooting was a case of friendly fire. But the incident sparked a public outcry in Italy; an estimated 100,000 people viewed the slain
agent's coffin as it lay in state.
Prodi's government is seeking the extradition and arrest of three CIA agents and one U.S. military advisor in connection with the 2003
abduction of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. A kidnapping without the knowledge of Italian authorities — as Italy
alleges — would be considered a serious affront to Italian sovereignty, though there is now some evidence that Italian agents may
have played a supporting role in the incident. One Italian agent has been detained by authorities and at least two others are being
questioned about the incident.
The courts made similar requests for the extradition of the U.S. suspects in both cases when Berlusconi was prime minister. But they
did not receive the key backing of the Ministry of Justice until Prodi and his allies took power.
"There is no doubt that these developments represent a shift in Italian policy," says Antonio Antinori, a former parliamentarian
representing Florence from a center-left party like Prodi's. "It is not anti-Washington as much as it is signaling that Washington will be
treated the same as every other capital."
The trend is expected to continue. "The Berlusconi government didn't want to make waves when it came to relations with Washington,
and I think we are already seeing that the Prodi government will be a little less forgiving," says James Walston, a political scientist at
the American University of Rome.
Few consider Prodi, 66, a former European Commission president, anti-American. But his pro-European views put him more in the
camp of European skeptics like France's Jacques Chirac than Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair — and Prodi's predecessor,
"There's a big difference between being pro-European and being anti-American," says Michele Prospero, political scientist at Rome's
Sapienza University. "Italy remains a strong ally. It's just an ally willing to be critical when appropriate, which is a healthy thing."
The United States so far has downplayed the new Italian government's moves. In a July 4 address during the annual independence
day party at his residence, U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald Spigoli said despite much-publicized differences, the United States and
Italy still agree on 90% of important issues.
In an interview that appeared in Tuesday's edition of the Italian financial daily Il Sole/24 Ore, President Bush focused on his personal
relationship with Prodi.
"I know him, and I'm at ease with him," the newspaper quoted Bush as saying of Prodi. "He may not always agree with me, but the
basic issue is: Can you get on well even if you disagree on some issues? My answer is, 'Yes.' "
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi
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