Iran General NewsItaly pushes stronger EU role on Afghanistan, Iran

Italy pushes stronger EU role on Afghanistan, Iran

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ImageReuters: Italy will press Europe to send more troops to Afghanistan and implement more effective sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters on Friday.

By Phil Stewart and Roberto Landucci

ImageROME, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Italy will press Europe to send more troops to Afghanistan and implement more effective sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters on Friday.

Frattini will next week meet the U.S. commander overseeing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and aims to discuss possible new strategies including empowering tribal chiefs along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"If we guarantee the heads of these tribes effective control of their territory, they will have an interest in combating the Taliban," Frattini said in the interview.

"I want to meet General Petraeus to understand how to do it. I'm convinced this mechanism can work."

Italy is one of the largest contributors in Europe to the NATO force in Afghanistan with about 2,300 troops. Frattini did not rule out stepping up Italian support by sending instructors or moving troops, but said smaller EU peers needed to do more.

"If Europe wishes to truly be an international actor, Europe will need to do more," Frattini said.

"Frankly, there are some European countries that have not done much in Afghanistan and in the international fight against terrorism so far," he added, pointing to smaller countries in the 27-nation euro zone that only sent 50 or 80 troops.

A surge in violence in Afghanistan this year has marked the bloodiest period since U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Italy will host the Group of Eight summit in mid-2009, and Frattini is planning a separate foreign ministers' conference around that time on stabilising Afghanistan — also involving Afghan neighbours and Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia has developed a very important mediation role with the Taliban," he said, adding that Italy favoured talks with Taliban groups that have "formally renounced violence".

TOUGHER IRAN SANCTIONS

One Afghan neighbour Frattini did not expect to invite to the Afghan conference was Iran, although he said he would speak with Hillary Clinton about it next year when she becomes U.S. secretary of state.

He lamented that sanctions against Iran had not yet compelled the Islamic nation to negotiate over its nuclear programme, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says it is aimed at supplying energy.

Still, Frattini saw a new opportunity for sanctions due to Iran's recent economic difficulties.

"Iran is suffering a serious economic crisis. The price of oil has fallen. There is inflation in Iran that may reach an annual 25 percent. If effective sanctions were added to this, Iran would probably be compelled to finally negotiate," he said. Italy is one of Iran's biggest trading partners, but Frattini said bilateral trade between the two countries fell 20 percent in the past year and Rome was ready for tougher moves.

At the same time, he added: "Either everyone does them, or they don't have an effect." He criticised some allies, without naming them, for showing resistance to tougher sanctions so far.

Turning to recent disputes between the United States and Russia, both strong allies of Rome, Frattini said Italy favoured a discussion about U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile system in Europe, opposed by Moscow.

Measuring his words carefully, he said Italy is an "indisputable friend" of America but also believes Russia is an important partner for Europe that needs to be engaged.

"Winning the challenge in Afghanistan or peace in the Middle East against Russia or without Russia is impossible," he said. (Writing by Phil Stewart; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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