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Cablegate: Amb. Presses Italian Mod and Pm Adviser On Nato Sac

VZCZCXRO9091
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHRO #0881/01 1981441
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 161441Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0601
INFO RUEHXP/ALL NATO POST COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT PRIORITY 0312
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE PRIORITY 3120
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN PRIORITY 9465
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES PRIORITY 3267
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 000881

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/17/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL NATO LE AF XF IT
SUBJECT: AMB. PRESSES ITALIAN MOD AND PM ADVISER ON NATO SAC

ROME 00000881 001.2 OF 002

Classified By: Ambassador Ronald Spogli for reasons 1.4 b and d

1. (C) Summary. In separate meetings with MOD La Russa and
PM Berlusconi's principal adviser U/S Gianni Letta on July
15, the Ambassador noted the importance of the NATO Strategic
Airlift Capability (SAC) to provide mission critical
assistance in Afghanistan and lamented that an Italian
withdrawal at this late hour could jeopardize the project.
La Russa was well briefed and agreed on the strategic
importance of the program but explained that Treasury
Minister Tremonti's call for budget cuts in order to meet
Italian commitments to the EU Commission had necessitated his
decision. Both La Russa and Letta suggested the Ambassador
raise the issue with Tremonti and PM Berlusconi and press the
importance, to the Alliance and to the U.S., of Italy's
continued participation in the SAC program. The Ambassador
plans to discuss Italy's participation in the NATO SAC with
Treasury Minister Tremonti and with PM Berlusconi.
Alessandro Ruben, Parliamentarian and International Affairs
Adviser to the MOD, who accompanied La Russa, said the MOD
hoped to invite Secdef to visit Rome soon. End Summary.

Italy, Budget Cuts and NATO SAC
-------------------------------

2. (C) The Ambassador told La Russa and Letta that he
understood the financial challenges facing the Italian
government but noted it would be very disappointing if the
entire multinational effort to provide a strategic NATO
capability required for ISAF and other operations came undone
because Italy could not support its previously stated
commitment. La Russa tried hard to distance himself from the
decision to withdraw from the SAC program. He explained that
as a politician he was sensitive to the need not to let your
""Allies"" down and didn't want to hurt Italy's international
reputation. However, he said the Treasury Minister had
convinced PM Berlusconi of the need to implement tough budget
cuts in order to meet the agreed deficit/GDP ratio the
Italian government negotiated with the EU Commission.

3. (C) La Russa said Berlusconi had suggested the MOD meet
the call for budget cuts entirely through cutting personnel.
La Russa disagreed with the PM and didn't think it was
possible to make such drastic personnel cuts which was why he
had asked his Generals to advise him on how best to meet
Tremonti's requests. He said they had advised him to
withdraw from the SAC, not because they were not pleased with
the program, but because it was the least painful choice. La
Russa suggested the Ambassador speak directly with Berlusconi
and Tremonti to encourage greater budgetary flexibility for
the MOD.

La Russa Expects Operations to Remain Stable
--------------------------------------------

4. (C) La Russa noted that fortunately the funding for
military operations was a separate budget issue and was
approved annually by parliament in December. He said he
hoped not to have to cut overseas missions. However, he
alluded to critics within the government of Italy's
participation in UNIFIL and said that Tremonti, in
particular, suggested withdrawing from Lebanon in order to
dedicate more resources to Afghanistan. La Russa quickly
assured the Ambassador that he had no intention of
withdrawing from Lebanon and that he understood the political
value of the mission, and in particular the prestige Italy
gained from its leadership position in UNIFIL.

Carabinieri - One Possible Area of Expansion
--------------------------------------------

5. (C) La Russa noted that despite the overall call for
cuts, Berlusconi had encouraged him to look at ways to
increase the flexibility and deployability of the Carabinieri
both domestically and internationally. La Russa said he was
in the process of doing so, but would proceed carefully as he
didn't want to offend the Army, Navy or Air Force in the
process. The Ambassador agreed that Italy has a unique
capability with the Carabinieri and praised their efforts at
the Vicenza Center of Excellence for Stability and Police
Units (CoESPU), in Afghanistan, and in Iraq.

Dal Molin - La Russa Wants Resolution
-------------------------------------


ROME 00000881 002.2 OF 002


6. (C) The Ambassador thanked La Russa for his strong
statements of support for moving forward on U.S. plans for
construction at Dal Molin. La Russa said closing this issue
was of utmost importance for him. He said he expected a
favorable outcome when the Council of State, Italy's top
administrative court, is expected to decide on the
government's appeal of the lower court's decision on July 29.
La Russa assured the Ambassador that if the outcome weren't
favorable, the government would overrule the decision.

Comment
------
7. (C) It was clear from the Minister and from Letta that
Berlusconi had given strict instructions to his Cabinet to
implement Tremonti's budget cuts in order to bring Italy
in-line with its EU agreements. The Minister clearly wasn't
happy about withdrawing from SAC, but felt his hands were
tied. It is possible that the Italian MOD's withdrawal from
the NATO SAC program was a maneuver on the part of La Russa's
staff to use the SAC as a weapon in a game of budgetary
chicken. By putting a program so important to the U.S. and
NATO on the chopping block, and blindsiding their own MFA by
writing directly to NATO, as opposed to going through their
Ambassador at NATO, perhaps they hoped for U.S. and NATO
involvement at the highest levels to help save the program.
Nothing is ever truly final in Italy, and consequently, we
will continue to press at the highest levels for a reversal
of the SAC decision. However, the real concern is that the
C-17 decision may foreshadow more troublesome news to come.
As we have maintained for nearly three years, chronic
economic stagnation, competing demands for budget discipline,
and social expenditure enhancements are on a collision
course. We may have witnessed but the first victim of this
encounter. End Comment.
SPOGLI
"

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