The top diplomatic adviser to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met this morning with U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones at the White House, where he was expected to offer Italy's support on the difficult tangle of issues dividing Washington from Moscow.
Counselor Bruno Archi told a small group of foreign policy writers and analysts this morning that "trans-Atlantic ties are our most important and top priority in foreign policy." Archi's effort to help build rapport with top Obama administration officials is being carefully watched, in part because Berlusconi had a close political relationship with President Obama's predecessor, George Bush, but may—in the view of some analysts—have gotten off to a rocky start with Obama. Also, Italy this year is holding the presidency of the Group of Eight industrial powers, which includes Russia. It will host the group's annual summit meeting in July, which Obama will attend.
Berlusconi and Obama had a telephone conversation earlier this week in which the two discussed Russia, the European Union, Mediterranean-area issues, and European-U.S. ties, said Archi.
Italy's ambassador in Washington, Giovanni Castellaneta, who also spoke this morning, said that Italy enjoys "a special relationship" with Russia, including a close working relationship between Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He denied recent press reports that Berlusconi would seek to position Italy's government—a NATO ally of the United States—as a "mediator" between Washington and Moscow but said that Italy was prepared to be helpful in other ways. "We can use our expertise," he said.
On Iran, Archi said, "If we want to put more pressure on Iran, we have to be more coordinated." Italy is Iran's top trade partner in Europe, principally through purchases of Iranian oil. Archi suggested that Iran's presidential election in June was a complicating factor: "We have to wait and see. It will be very difficult to predict the result," he said. Hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to face the more moderate former President Mohammad Khatami and perhaps other candidates as well.
U.S.-European cooperation on financial and economic recovery will be a central theme of today's conversations, both Italian officials indicated, and Castellaneta referred to concern over avoiding protectionist moves during the global recession.
Another issue that might arise is the future of terrorism suspects being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba. Castellaneta said that "no requests" from the Obama administration to take any prisoners have yet been received. If they are later on, he said, "we are ready to examine" them. He reiterated that Europe wants to help "facilitate" the disbanding of the Guantánamo prison.