Franco Frattini 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini openly admits his commitment to Israel, the memory of the Holocaust and the fight against resurgent anti-Semitism, and proudly states that "the Jewish community always receives me as the great friend I feel I am."
He plans to say more about this when, as guest of honor, he addresses the American Jewish Committee at its Annual General Meeting in Washington on May 7.
With Frattini at the helm, Italy was the first EU country to announce its boycott of last week's UN anti-racism conference ("Durban II") in no uncertain terms. As early as March 5, he declared the basic conditions for Italy's participation were lacking, setting the stage for Poland, Germany and Holland to follow suit.
On April 21, the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's shocking address, Italy's Foreign Ministry released a memo on its boycott of the conference stating, "In our assessment we also considered... the statements that would eventually be made in plenary session and on the sidelines. We could not participate in an event where, once again, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was manipulated and Israel labeled a racist nation, as happened in 2001. The events of Monday afternoon confirmed that foresight."
"Not just the text, but the context itself was our concern," Frattini told The Jerusalem Post.
"Italy bowed out when we realized all space for negotiations was gone and Holland's excellent draft would be discarded," he said.
"We felt three key points of the adopted paper were unacceptable: approval of the Durban 2001 document, which singled out Israel amid motions decrying racism; insufficient treatment of the Holocaust - the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, and motions aimed at limiting freedom of expression regarding criticism of religions and their followers.
"An international forum on a crucial issue such as racism cannot be exploited to attack Israel," he continued. "The EU displayed political weakness and lost an occasion for expressing unity."
Frattini said the UN Human Rights Committee ought to be reformed, recalling a US proposal for "a coalition of democracies" within the UN.
"The problem is that we have no power to separate democracies from totalitarian states. Today, non-democratic countries have the same voting rights as democracies," he said.
He recalled Italy's battle in the General Assembly against the death penalty.
"We finally won last year," he said, "even though these principles cannot be legally enforced. Violations continue in China, Iran, etc. while, fortunately, the death penalty has been eradicated from the EU."
Frattini envisions a future, nonpolitical UN conference focusing on "the human person's universal right to life, physical integrity, free expression, gender equality for men, women and homosexuals, abolishing political imprisonment and the death penalty everywhere; a new humanism guaranteed for all, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion."
He agreed, though, that the threat of a nuclear Iran was one of the world's most pressing problems.
"We actually don't know what Iran is doing," he sad. "The embargo has never been fully applied, so its effects oscillate. The 5+1 powers have no common vision.
"We cannot permit Iran to produce a nuclear bomb. Nuclear power for peaceful use only is acceptable. We must reduce the number of nuclear military powers, not add new ones."
There are rumors regarding a Fiat factory expansion in Iran.
The Fiat factory has existed for 35 years, but there is no new activity. There is a freeze on all new investments.
What is your opinion regarding US President Barack Obama's offer to engage Iran in dialogue?
I am in complete agreement and very much appreciate his leadership at this difficult moment.
While fully condemning Ahmadinejad's words, President Obama also reminded him that Iran must cooperate with the international community if it wants dialogue. Obama is clearly demanding serious dialogue based on concrete facts.
Israel considers time to be of the essence, and is becoming quite anxious.
As a loyal friend of Israel we must also give advice. We have publicly expressed our fears that any conflict would produce a major disaster, above all for Israel.
How is Italy engaged in the peace process?
I maintain a direct line with [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton. I met with Lebanese and Syrian leaders a few days ago, am presently meeting with Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and will meet Israel's new foreign minister in Rome on May 4.
And the content of your meetings?
They are positive. Syria confirmed its wish to negotiate with Israel. The Saudi Arabian peace initiative, with de facto recognition of Israel, is on the carpet.
The ball is now also in Israel's camp. Does Israel still hold what we hold - that two states for two peoples is the only possible solution? Is Israel ready to take on talks with Syria? Is Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu ready to resume peace talks?
We will soon have the answers - after Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman's visit.