Despite elections, FM off to Italy

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to travel to Italy Wednesday - six days before the election - for a day of talks with the leadership in Rome and in the Vatican. The visit comes a day before EU leaders gather for a meeting, and Livni, scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is expected to press the need for the EU to stand firm on denying Hamas legitimacy until it recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and accepts previous agreements. Italy is considered among Israel's strongest supporters in the EU, and Livni's visit comes amid growing concern in Jerusalem that Europe's resolve regarding Hamas may be weakening. She is also expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue. Livni is also scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini and Romano Prodi, the leader of the center-left opposition. Prodi is running against Berlusconi in next month's elections and enjoys a small lead in the polls. In addition, she is scheduled to spend time with her Vatican counterpart, Giovanni Lajolo, in a meeting Foreign Ministry official characterized as important in light of the fireworks-attack in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth earlier this month. In a related development, Israeli and EU officials are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem Wednesday to discuss Israel's participation in the European Neighborhood Policy. Wednesday's discussion is to focus on agricultural, energy, transportation and environmental issues.