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Italy Takes the first Step: an Invitation to Iran

March 2, 2009

On February 23rd, Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini publicly stated that his government is considering the possibility of inviting Iran to a Group of Eight’s (G8) ministerial conference scheduled for June in Trieste. The meeting, which falls under Italy’s G8 presidency, will focus on the stabilization of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Washington Prism talked with Maurizio Massari, head of the policy-planning unit at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about this Italian overture toward Iran.

Washington Prism: Italy’s invitation to Iran was driven by what considerations in particular? What does Italy believe can be achieved in the relations with Iran?

Maurizio Massari (MM): I wouldn’t call it so much an invitation, but rather a hypothesis for collaborative work. Our goal is the stabilization of Afghanistan and the region. We want to see whether Iran can, and is willing to, contribute to this goal. It has nothing to do with the nuclear issue, on which the standards put forward thus far still stand.

WP: Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has maintained a hard line on Iran up until now. How shall we understand this initiative of the Italian Foreign Ministry? Is this a signal that the Italian Government is ready to change approach?

MM: The hard line on the nuclear issue and international sanctions stands and it remains the approach of our government.

WP: Have there been consultations between the Italian Government and the U.S. Government, or those of the other members of the European Union, before the invitation to Trieste was officially extended to Iran?

MM: As far as Iran’s potential involvement in the stabilization process in Afghanistan and the region we are consulting with our American, European and Arab allies. It is not a unilateral initiative, rather we are trying to gather overall consensus on it.

WP: What is the Italian Government’s position as far as economic sanctions on Iran? What will Italy’s approach be over the course of the next few months?

MM: Italy will act in accordance to the decisions made between the EU and the U.S. If, within the framework of ‘bigger sticks, bigger carrots’, new sanctions will be imposed, we will also adopt them.

WP: Beyond Afghanistan, do you see other areas in which Italy thinks a positive dialogue and collaboration with Iran can be created?

MM: I think the Persian Gulf and Iraq, after U.S. troops withdraw, can become areas where we can test Iranian behavior and intentions.

Originally written and reported for Washington Prism

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