Prodi defends Italy's foreign policy before vote

Premier Romano Prodi sought to win over senators with a speech meant to woo both Catholics and Communists in his fractious coalition before Wednesday's confidence vote that will decide the survival of Italy's 61st postwar government. Prodi defended Italy's foreign policy, including its 1,800-strong troop commitment in Afghanistan - a sore point among his allies that prompted an embarrassing parliamentary defeat last week and caused him to resign. But even as the ruling coalition closes ranks, it has a mere one-seat majority in the Senate - leading center-left leaders to try to draw in some moderate senators and rally the support of at least some of the honorary senators appointed for life. Prodi acknowledged differing opinions on Afghanistan, but said there was awareness that a military presence cannot be the only solution - an apparent nod to far leftists who want Italy to focus on diplomatic rather than military action and have been demanding that Rome push for an international conference. "The goal of our presence in Afghanistan is to consolidate the country's young democratic institutions," Prodi said. "Our soldiers bring a culture of dialogue and help, not of clashes."