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Berlusconi's US relationship becomes less special

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsarticle.aspx?type=worldNews&storyid=2005-05-03T184547Z_01_MOR367496_RTRUKOC_0_ITALY-USA.xml Berlusconi s US relationship
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005

      Berlusconi's US relationship becomes less special
      Tue May 3, 2005 7:45 PM BST

      By Phil Stewart

      ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio
      Berlusconi, long proud of having friends in high
      places, has seen the limitations of his rapport with
      Washington after a public falling-out over the killing
      of an Italian agent in Iraq.

      With the United States refusing to accept any blame,
      Italy issued a 52-page report on Monday criticising
      U.S. roadblock procedures and inexperienced, stressed
      U.S. soldiers who shot intelligence agent Nicola
      Calipari last March.

      While showing Berlusconi is willing to stand up to the
      world superpower, the episode nonetheless tarnishes
      his cherished claims to a cozy friendship with
      Washington and will embolden critics of his unpopular
      decision to send troops to Iraq.

      "Berlusconi was trumpeting his special relationship
      with President George Bush and the United States, and
      gets a slap in the face," said Jason Walston, director
      of international relations at the American University
      of Rome.

      "It's not a body-blow, but it is a weapon that will be
      used against Berlusconi ... You sacrifice our hero,
      and you don't even get an apology when they kill him,"
      he told Reuters.

      Berlusconi, who faces a general election next year,
      will address parliament on Thursday about the incident
      and is likely to insist that U.S.-Italian ties remain

      His decision to start bringing troops home from Iraq
      in September is also not expected to be brought

      Intent on preserving ties, Berlusconi reportedly
      delayed the release of final report several hours to
      assure its tone was technical -- and not political --
      to avoid exacerbating the row.

      "Berlusconi does not want to take the conflict over
      Calipari's death to extreme lengths," an unidentified
      Berlusconi advisor was quoted as saying in Il
      Messaggero newspaper.

      "He has no intention of breaking ties of friendship
      built over these years, at great sacrifice, with


      But he will not be allowed to forget that on the night
      Calipari died, he summoned U.S. ambassador Mel Sembler
      and told him that someone had to "take responsibility"
      for the killing.

      "We have lost one of our best men and we cannot afford
      to be either intransigent or accommodating," Italian
      Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said on Tuesday.

      "The government has no dignity," said Communist party
      leader Oliviero Diliberto.

      U.S. Secretary State Condoleezza Rice said in a
      telephone call on Tuesday with her Italian
      counterpart, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, that
      she was "sorry" the two countries could not agree on
      the shooting, Italy's foreign ministry said.

      In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard
      Boucher said the United States was closely reading
      Italy's report but stood by its own account. "The
      reports do differ in some ways but they are not
      diametrically opposed, I think."

      "We maintain very strong bilateral relationships and
      we will continue working together, including our
      commitment that we both have to the people of Iraq,"
      Boucher told a news briefing.

      Since his election in 2001, Berlusconi has ordered a
      sea-change in Italian foreign policy -- shifting focus
      away from "Old Europe" allies France and Germany and
      toward a close transatlantic alliance with the United
      States and Britain.

      Bush has repeatedly thanked Berlusconi for his support
      and the two men have held numerous, back-slapping

      But previous cases have underlined the Pentagon's
      reluctance to bow to outside pressure in internal

      In 1998, a U.S. Marines jet -- flying recklessly low
      -- cut an Italian ski lift cable, killing 20 people.
      To the outrage of many Italians, the pilot was later
      cleared of manslaughter.

      In the Iraq incident, the U.S. exonerated its soldiers
      of blame. For many ordinary Italians, the message was

      "I think one of the sides lied, knowing that they are
      lying. The Italians seem to have acted in good faith.
      The Americans - I am not sure", said Roman Giorgio
      Maggi, on his way to work.
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