Italy willing to lead mission in Lebanon

Italy would be willing to lead the military peace mission in Lebanon should the United Nations ask it to, a leader of Premier Romano Prodi's coalition said in an interview published on Sunday. "In case UN headquarters put forward the request to our country to lead the mission, our country will not refuse, even though it is not seeking it," Piero Fassino, who leads the largest party in Prodi's center-left coalition, was quoted as telling Rome daily Il Messaggero. "The Middle East is close to us, and a great nation like Italy cannot shirk its duties," Fassino was quoted as saying. "You cannot only invoke peace and security, you have to build them." On Friday, Prodi's government endorsed sending peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, but did not commit itself to a specific number. However, Prodi and Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema have indicated that Italy was willing to contribute as many as 3,000 troops, which could make it one of the biggest members of the contingent. Fassino said that Prodi was discussing with European leaders about how many troops will be sent. "The broader the (united) front of the countries is, the more the mission will be credible and authoritative," Fassino, who leads the Democrats of the Left party, was quoted as saying.