Despite close trade ties with Iran, Prodi promises Italy will abide by any sanctions

Prodi refuses to confirm a report that Italian secret services came close to freeing Goldwasser and Regev

Rome and Jerusalem are speaking in sync when it comes to opposing Iran acquiring a nuclear capability. This was the message that emerged from the joint news conference given by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his visiting Italian counterpart Romano Prodi after the two held talks at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on Monday. "Iran cannot and should not have a military nuclear capability," Prodi said, adding that Iran's refusal to abide by the requests of the United Nations Security Council increased chances of stronger sanctions, which, he said, was "a path that no one wants to take." The Italian premier, on his first visit to the region since taking office in May 2006, noted that Iran has been a major trading partner for Italy since the days of the Shah, but promised that Rome would fully abide by any new sanctions. Olmert reiterated Jerusalem's position that a country which threatened to destroy the state of Israel could not be allowed to manufacture a nuclear weapon. The Italian premier also met with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), who urged stepped-up sanctions against Iran. Asked about a report in the Italian La Stampa newspaper claiming that the Italian secret services came close to bringing about the release of kidnapped IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Prodi said he could not confirm the story because he did not know the facts. According to the La Stampa report, "a wrong move" by the Italian government thwarted the release. Prodi said that Italy "has applied pressure in the matter and asked for information on their whereabouts, but has never had specific data that could have triggered their release." He promised that Rome would continue to work towards the release of the two soldiers. On Tuesday morning, before he travels to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Prodi will meet with Goldwasser's wife, Karnit. Olmert and Prodi also discussed ways of strengthening the new Palestinian government and agreed that despite the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remained a single Palestinian entity. The Italian prime minister also called on Hamas to release Gilad Schalit without further delay, saying "he has been in captivity for too long." After his talks with Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni escorted Prodi on a visit to Sderot. Earlier in the day, he met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak who thanked him for Italy's role in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Italian troops make up the largest element in the international force.