(photo credit: AP)
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi will hold talks on Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On Sunday night, after arriving in Israel, Olmert hosted Prodi at a private dinner in Jerusalem.
On the top of the agenda at Monday's talks is expanding the international sanctions against Iran. Rome is expected to back a move at the UN Security Council to step up sanctions, even though Italian government officials have raised questions over the effectiveness of sanctions.
Italy is Iran's second-biggest trading partner in Europe, after Germany, with bilateral trade relations worth 5 billion euros a year. Italian companies have already scaled down their commercial ties with Teheran due to the sanctions already in place.
Prodi will be the first foreign leader to visit the region since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip last month. He hosted prime minister Olmert in Rome in December.
The Italians are already active in the Middle East, contributing 2,500 soldiers to the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon - more troops than any other country. Italy also contributes to the UN force in Sinai, the border-monitoring mission at Rafah and the TIPH observer team in Hebron.
Prodi's predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, was considered one of Israel's closest friends in Europe. Prodi, meanwhile, who heads a center-left government, is more careful not to upset Italy's allies in the Arab world.
Prodi will also meet on Monday with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and with President-elect Shimon Peres.
On Tuesday, before traveling to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Prodi will meet with Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of kidnapped IDF soldier Ehud Goldwasser.
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