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Cablegate: Italy: Priorities for Probable Defense Minister

VZCZCXRO5316
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHMIL #0073/01 1140829
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 230829Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL MILAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1464
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 8389
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE 0164
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 0161
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MILAN 000073

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/WE, EUR/PPD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/22/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL TBIO MARR MCAP IT

SUBJECT: ITALY: PRIORITIES FOR PROBABLE DEFENSE MINISTER

MILAN 00000073 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: CG Daniel Weygandt. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Ignazio La Russa is the most likely candidate for
Minister of Defense in Berlusconi's government. If given
this portfolio, he said he would work to quickly increase
MOD's budget, increase Carabinieri police patrols for
domestic security, and try to establish military summer camps
for Italian youth. He promised to travel to Afghanistan
within seven days of taking office to highlight the
importance of Italy's mission there. He said the USG no
longer needs to worry about its military bases in Italy, and
he is eager to work with the USG on a range of issues. He
expects a cooperative relationship between the People of
Liberty Party and the Northern League in the governing
coalition. End summary.


-----------------------------------
Priorities for the Defense Ministry
-----------------------------------

2. (C) Ignazio La Russa, former National Alliance (AN)
politician and current member of Berlusconi's People of
Liberty Party (PdL), confirmed to the Consul General he was
virtually certain to be named Berlusconi's Minister of
Defense as press reports have been speculating. He gave
three priorities he will focus on as Minister: increasing
the budget for the military, enhancing cooperation between
the state police and the Carabinieri (police under MOD
control) to enhance domestic security, and opening domestic
Italian military bases to youth in the summer to instill a
sense of civic pride and participation.

-------------------------------
Bigger Budgets from Berlusconi?
-------------------------------

3. (C) La Russa was clear that Italy must shoulder more of
the military burden internationally. He stated his top
priority if he were Minister of Defense would be to push for
an increased military budget. He would use the additional
funds to purchase more arms and to modernize Italy's military
services. He was confident that he could secure such an
increase from Berlusconi because of his independent political
base (as a popular former AN politician in the Milan area)
and his personal relationship with him. He insisted that the
increase must not only be an increase in monetary terms but
also in percentage of GDP. (Comment: It would still be an
uphill battle to get any significant budget increase given
Italy's sluggish economic growth. End comment.)


-----------------------
Cleaning up the Streets
-----------------------

4. (C) La Russa described domestic security as a critical
issue for the Italian electorate; however, he characterized
it more as a matter of perception than reality (he called
Italy's street crime rates among the lowest in the world).
He relayed that he had already spoken with Berlusconi's
probable choice for Minister of Interior, Roberto Maroni
(Northern League-LN), on this issue. He said they agreed to
mesh state police (controlled by the Ministry of the
Interior) and Carabinieri (controlled by Defense) efforts to
increase the visibility of police patrols at night in major
cities. La Russa noted he might need to justify the military
police patrols as measures to control off-duty Italian
servicemen, but that the increased patrols would be a
deterrent to crime and cause an immediate change in public
perceptions whatever the justification.


---------------------
Military Summer Camps
---------------------

5. (C) Coming from a generation that served compulsorily in
the military, La Russa lauded the spirit of civic
responsibility and pride that military service can instill.
While he by no means suggests a return to mandatory service,
he proposes that domestic military bases in Italy open their
doors to young people each summer for thirty day internships.

MILAN 00000073 002.2 OF 003


He hoped this would promote military service as a career for
some, but also a sense of national identity and service to
country. He said the program could indirectly serve to
combat petty crime and drug use among young people.


----------------------------
To Afghanistan Within 7 Days
----------------------------


6. (C) La Russa asked the Consul General on advice for where
he should make his first trip as Minister of Defense:
Afghanistan or Lebanon. At the Consul General's urging, he
promised to visit Afghanistan within seven days of his
appointment. He said it is one thing to praise Italian
forces in Afghanistan and call for a more productive role,
but that visiting the troops there immediately would send an
even stronger message.

-------------------------------
No Need to Worry for U.S. Bases
-------------------------------


7. (C) Turning to the military bases in Italy, and
especially the base expansion project in Vicenza, La Russa
was adamant that the U.S. need not worry with the newly
elected government. He did not go into specific details, but
it was clear he is well acquainted with, and supports, U.S.
military installations in Italy. He literally described
himself as pro-American. He related his involvement in the
youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the late
1960s as an example of his pro-U.S. sentiment. He said the
movement was split into two camps: one pro-Palestinian and
the other pro-American (and pro-Israeli). He called himself
a leading exponent of the latter.

--------------------------------------------- -
Berlusconi's the Boss: Internal Party Politics
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (C) La Russa painted a clear picture of the PdL as a
party with Berlusconi on top with no second tier leaders. He
called this a strength, but also a weakness. He noted that
Forza Italia had been an amorphous party with key positions
handed out at Berlusconi's whim. La Russa said he would work
to organize the PdL into a coherent, stable party. He used
the fate of Lombardy Region President Roberto Formigoni as an
example of Berlusconi's leadership style. Formigoni has been
widely discussed in the press as a possible minister in
Berlusconi's government. La Russa noted that PdL leadership
met and Berlusconi had decided to have Formigoni continue as
regional president rather than become a minister. Still, La
Russa said the final decision would be made in a one-on-one
meeting between Berlusconi and Formigoni, and that it is, in
fact, quite possible to change Berlusconi's mind.


-------------------------------
La Russa: In Love with Politics
-------------------------------

9. (C) La Russa noted that he had been asked to be a
Minister in the last Berlusconi government, but that he
preferred to serve as the head of the AN parliamentary group.
In this way, he was able to work on the full range of
government issues rather than being constricted to a certain
portfolio. Calling himself ""in love with politics,"" he said
he enjoyed his time in the opposition. He noted it was
""extremely gratifying"" to righteously point out the flaws of
the government. He jokingly said he would have preferred to
remain in the opposition for his entire career instead of
being in government. Still, he wanted to be a minister this
time around to give a noble end to his political career.


-----------------
Justice Minister?
-----------------

10. (C) As a lawyer, he called himself perhaps more adapted
to serving as Minister of Justice, a role apparently floated
by Berlusconi. He blatantly stated that he would not want to
be the person between Berlusconi and the magistrates, wryly
noting that PdL's rising young female leader Mariastella
Gelmini would be more suitable as she would do whatever
Berlusconi wanted. (Note: Financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore
predicted in its morning edition that Gelmini would likely be

MILAN 00000073 003.2 OF 003


named Minister of Justice. End note.) He mentioned his
fascination with the military and his brief military service
in the Folgore Regiment (Italian paratroopers) as reasons why
he sought the defense portfolio.

----------------------------------
In League with the Northern League
----------------------------------

11. (C) Relations between the PdL and the Northern League
will not be a problem, according to La Russa. The two
parties collaborated in the last Berlusconi government and
had worked together in regional and city governments for over
a decade. He compared the rhetoric of the Northern League to
excessively loud music at a disco club. If you do not go to
clubs regularly, you can barely understand what is going on
and can barely hear the music. If you turn down the volume
(or are used to the atmosphere), the music is not too bad.
Likewise, the party faithful of the Northern League
appreciate the harsh rhetoric and policy statements, but if
you tone it down a bit, the LN platform is not too far off
from that of the PdL. Some disagreements are clear such as
LN's original call for secession or an independent foreign
policy, but PdL got the LN to back off on those demands years
ago. LN's xenophobic rants and proposals remain the primary
irritant between the two parties.


-----------------------------
Comment: Ready to Get to Work
-----------------------------

11. (C) La Russa is clearly eager and willing to work with
the U.S. on a range of priorities from increased Italian
support in Afghanistan to our bases here in Italy. Further,
the fact that he already has a list of priorities before
being named Minister of Defense gives hope that he will be
more proactive and less bureaucratic than his predecessors.
While his background and proposal for military youth programs
carry a bit of the scent of fascism, he seems convinced that
centrist politics are the future for serious political
parties.


--------
Bio Note
--------

11. (C) La Russa is talkative, energetic and likes to tell
jokes to illustrate his points. He has traveled often in the
U.S. and calls New York City his favorite vacation spot. He
speaks English and German. He is a flamboyant personality
and freely admits he enjoys being in the limelight. He is
married with three sons.
WEYGANDT
"

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