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Cablegate: Iraq/Italy: Pm Berlusconi Speaks to the Senate On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified, please protect accordingly.

2. (U) Summary: Italian PM Berlusconi stressed to the
Senate March 9 the importance of the U.S.'s "unprecedented"
decision to allow Italy to participate in the investigation
of the circumstances that led to the March 4 killing of
Italian SISMI official Nicola Calipari in Baghdad.
Indicating that Italy would stay the course in Iraq,
Berlusconi said there is no direct link between the
presence of troops and the nationality of hostages. He
cautioned against traveling to Iraq, saying the Italian
Government could not guarantee the safety of unessential
personnel. Berlusconi never broached the word ransom, but
in the debate that followed, former PM Amato said paying
ransoms could be "counterproductive" and that policy should
be revisited. In later TV statements, FM Fini denied that
the Government had paid money to obtain the release of ex-
hostage Sgrena. End summary.

3. (U) PM Silvio Berlusconi spoke for about 20 minutes
March 9 to an almost full and very attentive Senate
Assembly on the release of Italian journalist Giuliana
Sgrena and the incident that followed, in which Italian
SISMI official Nicola Calipari was killed. Berlusconi's
speech was well received, including by the majority of the
leftist parties. At the conclusion, the Senators stood up
to observe a minute of silence in commemoration of the
slain official. Berlusconi was flanked by a number of
Government Ministers, including FM Gianfranco Fini and MOD
Antonio Martino.

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U.S. and Italy have different versions

4. (U) Berlusconi summarized the reconstruction of events
FM Fini had exposed to the Chamber of Deputies the previous
day, saying it was based on what Calipari's SISMI colleague
-- the one driving -- had testified. He too, like Fini,
noted that this version did "not/not coincide totally with
what the U.S. authorities have communicated so far."
Underscoring his resolve to "demand from the U.S. its
maximum cooperation to determine the truth and identify
responsibilities" ("and even President Bush is convinced of
this," he said), he mentioned his meeting with Ambassador
Sembler the evening of the incident, as well as his "long
telephone conversation" with President Bush, the telcons
between Fini and Secretary Rice and MOD Martino and
Secretary Rumsfeld, and President Bush's letter to Italian

President Ciampi.

Joint investigation is very important

5. (U) Berlusconi underscored that the U.S.'s true
"willingness to cooperate" was "concretized" with its
"unprecedented" decision -- which he characterized as being
of "maximum importance" -- to accept the request he made to
President Bush that Italian officials be included in the
investigation that would ascertain "facts and
responsibilities." He posited that this showed the U.S.
would not "subtract itself from ascertaining the truth."
Arguing that the "truth of facts cannot but be shared" both
by Italy and the U.S., he remarked that the "unreasonable"
incident would be closed only after "frank and mutual
acknowledgement of possible responsibilities." In a
tribute to the U.S.'s true friendship for and admiration of
Calipari, and to its sorrow for his death, he added, "we
are certain that the grief the Americans feel, who that
same day lost four of their own soldiers, is equal to

Italy not intimidated by kidnappings

6. (U) The PM also noted that, although there is no single
hand behind kidnappings in Iraq, the end strategy is the
same: to spread fear and induce foreign governments to

abandon Iraq into the hands of terrorists. "This strategy
has failed," he said, "and Italy with its resolve has
certainly contributed to its failure." Italy, like the
other countries committed to supporting Iraq's
reconstruction, "did not allow itself to be intimidated and
did not give in to the kidnappers' blackmail." Saying that
there is no direct connection between the presence of
troops in Iraq and the nationality of the hostages taken
captive, he suggested -- as Fini had during his speech the
previous day -- that Italy would not withdraw its troops as
long as the Iraqi government requested their presence
there. (Note: The lower house of parliament is scheduled
to vote next week on the decree to extend funding for
Italy's troops in Iraq to June 30. The majority coalition
has sufficient votes and Embassy is confident that the
decree will be approved. The Senate has already approved

Government can't protect unessential personnel
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (U) On the issue of hostages, Berlusconi vowed for the
Government's constant resolve to reject the captors'
"political blackmail" -- meaning having the kidnappers
determine the Government's political decisions. He said
that to obtain the release of its hostages the Government
had always activated every possible "political, diplomatic
and intelligence channel," that the Italian intelligence
services are highly professional and effective and "have
greater expertise of Iraq than others," and that the
center-left opposition has shared this policy. For the
first time since kidnappings started in Iraq, he warned
that the Government could not be held accountable for the
safety of unessential personnel there, but could "guarantee
the security" only of those who "operate in tight
coordination with and under the protection of our military
contingent," including humanitarian organizations.
Referring to the MFA's travel warnings on Iraq, he asked
Italians not to travel to that country. (Note: after
Sgrena's kidnapping February 4, the Government had ordered
all Italian journalists to leave Iraq. It lifted the ban
on March 5.)

Politicos question ransom payments; Fini denies them
--------------------------------------------- -------

8. (U) Berlusconi's statements on the Government's
inability to protect all Italian nationals in Iraq opened a
guessing game within political circles on "what he really
meant." Speaking for the center-left "Union" (Romano
Prodi's political grouping) during the debate that
followed, former PM Giuliano Amato voiced a common doubt
that is beginning to surface among Italian politicians.
After expressing appreciation for the Government's stance
on the Sgrena kidnapping and the Calipari incident (the
joint investigation "is an important precedent," Amato
said), he queried whether politicians and the State should
not ask themselves how to prevent these events from
happening again. Breaking an unspoken veil, Amato pointed
to the "policy of ransoms, which we all shared for the
safety of our nationals abroad, regardless of whether it
was then implemented in specific circumstances." He
continued, "this policy in the long run can become
counterproductive, because it can contaminate the necessary
transparency and loyalty with other States with which we
cooperate in these situations; and even more, because it
can endanger the security of other Italians" in Iraq and

9. (U) Similarly, in an article in leading daily Corriere
della Sera March 10, DPM Marco Follini -- a staunch
Catholic -- made a strong case against negotiating with
"the cut-throats of international terrorism," because "we
have to do everything possible to protect future victims."
He continued, "we have to be dramatically clear and declare
with all due solemness that it is not possible to come to
terms with terrorists, under no circumstances." The debate
is on.

10. (U) Responding to these allegations, DPM/FM Fini,
during a late-night talk show March 9, categorically denied
that "the Italian Government had authorized money payments"
to facilitate the release of Giuliana Sgrena. "The Italian
Government never negotiated in exchange for money, I want
this to be clear," he said.

11. (SBU) Press reactions to Berlusconi's presentation
were strongly positive. While this issue will not go away
any time soon, Fini's and Berlusconi's presentations
combined with the announcement of the joint investigation
appeared to put things on a more positive footing, as
demonstrated by Berlusconi's widely reported quote, "we
can't ask for more."

12. (U) Embassy Baghdad minimize considered.


2005ROME00821 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

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