Italy clarifies NATO position after making pledge to Libya

Italian officials insisted Thursday its government will honor existing agreements with the U.S. and NATO in the wake of the prime minister’s pledge to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that no U.S. or NATO bases in Italy would be used to launch a strike against Libya.

On Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Kadhafi signed a reparations agreement, called the Treaty of Friendship, for damage inflicted on Libya during Italy’s 30-year occupation of the north African nation. Italy will pay Libya $5 billion over 20 years, construct roads and set up scholarships for Libyans who want to study in Italy, among other promises, according to a press announcement.

Italy’s minister for foreign affairs, Franco Frattini, on Thursday asserted that all existing agreements and obligations between Italy and the United States and NATO would be maintained, according to ministry public affairs officials.

"We’re fully confident that Italy will continue, as always, to fulfill its treaties and international obligations," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Thursday.

U.S. Defense Department and State Department officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The U.S. military has six bases and facilities in Italy — some large bases, others smaller installations where U.S. personnel work alongside Italian military. Facilities are in Aviano, Vicenza, Livorno, Ghedi, Naples and Sicily.

NATO has six facilities as well, including a NATO command element in Naples, and facilities or training centers in Nisida, Latina, Rome, La Spezia and Taranto.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Gadhafi for talks on Friday, the first visit to the by a senior cabinet member since 1953 to what has been considered a hostile country.

A goal is to "see a path toward a much more normal relationship," C. David Welch, assistant secretary of State for Near East Affairs, said during a press briefing Tuesday.

A transcript is posted on the Department’s Web site.

"Libya is not involved in terrorism anymore and it has foresworn terrorism," Welch said. "It has given up its weapons of mass destruction.

"In fact, it’s been verified by the U.S. and others. They’re now on – have an elected seat on the Security Council."

[Source: By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes, European Edition, 08Sep08]

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