Italian president arrives with 100 business leaders

Iran expected to figure prominently in discussions during Napolitano's three-day visit in Israel.

Bush Napolitano 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush Napolitano 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is scheduled to arrive Monday night for a three-day visit during which Iran is expected to figure prominently in discussions. Napolitano, in an interview with Yediot Aharonot prior to his departure, admitted that Italy had "important economic relations with Iran, similar to its ties with other countries in the Middle East." Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that Italy and Germany were the European countries with the greatest amount of trade with the Islamic republic. Nevertheless, the official said, while Napolitano would undoubtedly hear from his Israeli interlocutors that much tougher economic sanctions were needed to stop Teheran's nuclear march, there was also a realization that he - in the symbolic role of president - was not the proper address for complaints against Italian business dealings with Iran, and that those should be addressed to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Napolitano will be accompanied on his visit by 100 leading Italian businessmen, including the heads of Italy's industrialist association, union of banks, and chambers of commerce. The business leaders, too, are likely to hear in their meetings about the damage that European business ties with Teheran are causing to attempts to get the Iranians to halt their nuclear program. Napolitano, a member of the Italian Communist Party until its dissolution in 1991, is considered a strong supporter and good friend of Israel. He was elected president in 2006, and is close to President Shimon Peres, who will accompany him through much of his visit. In addition to meeting with Peres, Napolitano is also scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu and Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair. He is also scheduled to visit Yad Vashem, the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum and the Italian Synagogue in the capital, and Bethlehem. Napolitano and Peres are scheduled to launch an Israeli-Italian authors' dialogue in Jerusalem on Tuesday, and address a joint business conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.