AP: Italy's foreign minister said Saturday he is sending a representative to Tehran to sound out the possibility of a meeting with Iranian officials after he canceled a visit earlier this week.
The Associated Press
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
LA BAGNAIA, Italy (AP) — Italy's foreign minister said Saturday he is sending a representative to Tehran to sound out the possibility of a meeting with Iranian officials after he canceled a visit earlier this week.
Franco Frattini said Italy considers talks on regional security issues, especially the stabilization of Afghanistan, "particularly important."
"Our troops are in Herat, which shares 370 miles (600 kilometers) of border with Iran," Frattini said, speaking on the sidelines of a newspaper industry conference in La Bagnaia, Tuscany. Italy has some 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly in Kabul and the western region of Herat.
Frattini scrapped his planned Wednesday trip to Iran after Tehran tested a missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. Mideast bases. The ministry said the Iranians wanted Frattini to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the site of the missile launch.
Frattini told reporters on Saturday it was his "duty" to cancel the visit, because "going to the base from the which the missile left would have changed the goal of my mission."
He said he was still planning to invite Iran to attend a conference in Trieste on security issues in the Afghan region in late June. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also would be expected to attend as part of a series of Group of Eight meetings.
Frattini has said he wants to visit Iran and hold talks with officials on the stabilization of Afghanistan separately from the thorny issue of Tehran's nuclear program.
Asked by The Associated Press about the prospect that he would be the highest-ranking official from an EU country to visit Iran in four years, Frattini replied: "We will see. I am sending someone in the coming days."
EU governments have sought to avoid high-level meetings because of Iran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program, as called for in U.N. resolutions. Many Western countries fear Iran is working to produce nuclear weapons, while Tehran claims it is only seeking nuclear fuel for energy.
Frattini told reporters that Rome has "extended a hand" to Tehran, "but not on the Iranian nuclear bomb."
"That can never happen, not today, not tomorrow," he said. "Italy is Israel's best friend in Europe, and Iran knows that; but we need to talk with a region that is on the border of the most dangerous area in the world."
Italy has had good relations with Iran, and is the country's leading trading partner in the European Union. Italian officials believe no long-term stability can be reached in the Middle East region without involving Iran.