• Italy's news in English
 

Italy takes back seat on Syria

Published: 29 Aug 2013 08:39 GMT+02:00

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino has ruled out taking part without a UN Security Council mandate and says it would not be "automatic" even with such approval.

Government sources quoted in local media say Italy would also likely bar the use by third countries of air bases that played a pivotal role in Libya.

Italy is calling for UN inspectors to complete their work and anyone responsible for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack to be brought to justice.

"This very legalistic position is a departure from Italy's tradition of loyalty to Atlantic allies," said Jean-Pierre Darnis, an expert on Italian defence.

Several factors lie behind the policy, ranging from political weakness to concern about the fate of Christian minorities, experts said.

"Italy is prudent because it is weak," Vincenzo Nigro, a foreign policy specialist, said in an interview on the website of the La Repubblica daily.

"The slogan of [US President Barack] Obama seems to be: 'We have to do something, even if mistakes are made along the way'," Nigro said.

"Italy's is: 'It's better not to do anything even at the risk of mistakes and distancing ourselves from our traditional allies," he said.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta presides over an uneasy coalition with predecessor Silvio Berlusconi's party and tensions are particularly high now on the political scene because of the billionaire tycoon's legal woes.

Another factor behind the diplomatic caution could be because Italy is very involved in Lebanon, where it heads up the United Nations Interim Force.

"Syria is a piece in the puzzle that includes Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and any action in Syria could destabilize Lebanon," said Silvia Colombo from the Institute for International Affairs in Rome.

Colombo said Italy was also looking at Christians.

"The fate of Christians, who are threatened by the rise of radical Islamism, is not marginal," she said.

Mindful of the exodus of Christians from Iraq, the Vatican has repeatedly called for more negotiations and a process of peace and reconciliation in Syria.

Marco Volpe, a Middle East expert from the Centre for International Studies, said Italy was "examining all possible consequences of an armed intervention for political and religious equilibriums in the region".

Darnis said there was also the issue of public opinion, which in Italy is "more realist" than elsewhere and remains solidly convinced that strikes against on Syria "will not resolve anything".

Britain, France or the United States could launch strikes "almost based on the decision of a single man" but Italy, like Germany, is a parliamentary democracy where the votes of lawmakers are essential.

Asked if Italy's position could evolve, as it did with Libya, to align with its allies, Darnis said it was a possibility particularly since Italy has "major interests" in the Middle East.

But he added that its more neutral position could also be a diplomatic card to play in the future if there are ever negotiations between the warring sides.

He said Bonino, a former European aid commissioner who knows the Middle East well and has studied Arabic, could be looking to position Italy in a more humanitarian role by staying above the military fray.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Greece crisis
Renzi calls for exit from 'Germany-France' format
Greek voters rejected bailout conditions in a referendum on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

Renzi calls for exit from 'Germany-France' format

Italy’s premier Matteo Renzi said he would put pressure on EU leaders to move away from an EU format led by France and Germany as Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected international creditors’ tough bailout conditions. READ  

Greece crisis
Renzi: talks should restart after Greek vote
The photo of Giorgos Chatzifotiadis, sitting on the ground crying outside a bank branch, referred to by Renzi. Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis / AF

Renzi: talks should restart after Greek vote

Whatever the outcome of Greece's knife-edge referendum, Europeans must "start talking to each other again", Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told a newspaper on Sunday. READ  

'Italy will not be another Greece' says Renzi
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Photo: AFP/John Thys

'Italy will not be another Greece' says Renzi

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Saturday that his country is no longer a "companion in misfortune" of debt-wracked Greece, as it was three or four years ago. READ  

Are Italy's drinking fountains safe?
Toxic? A drinking fountain in Italy. Photo: Sergio de Ferra

Are Italy's drinking fountains safe?

A study published by Italian consumers Altroconsumo this week would suggest not. READ  

Sollecito turns page with new business and book
Raffaele Sollecito. Photo: Fillipo Monteforte / AFP

Sollecito turns page with new business and book

He was a protagonist in one of the most controversial murder trials in recent memory, but Raffaele Sollecito is trying to put the past behind him and aims to open his own IT business later this year. READ  

Clooney rumoured to be selling Como villa
George Clooney's Italian house, Villa Oleandra, situated on Lake Como's south-western shores, in Laglio. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Clooney rumoured to be selling Como villa

George Clooney might sell his luxury mansion Villa Oleandra, overlooking Lake Como, over privacy concerns, according to news reports. READ  

Nesting flamingos a first for Sicily
Nesting flamingos at Saline di Priolo. Photo: Fabio Cilea

Nesting flamingos a first for Sicily

Last spring, a flock of 220 greater flamingos arrived at the Saline di Priolo nature reserve in Sicily. Just over a year later, 36 newborn chicks have hatched – the first documented time the majestic birds have bred in Sicily. READ  

Vegan parents probed over malnourished baby
A vegan meal. Photo: Jennifer/Flickr

Vegan parents probed over malnourished baby

The vegan parents of an 11-month-year-old baby who is being treated for severe malnutrition at a hospital in Florence are being investigated by police. READ  

 Italian nun brings life in DR Congo
81 year-old Italian nun Sister Maria Concetta talks with mothers at Zongo Hospital. Photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP

Italian nun brings life in DR Congo

Still going strong at 81, Italian nun and midwife Sister Maria Concetta Esu recently asked Pope Francis to bless her hands, which have delivered more than 34,000 African babies. READ  

Migrants take shelter in Italy Holocaust memorial
A migrant walks in the Shoah Museum - Binario 21 ('Platform 21') at the Central Station in Milan. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Migrants take shelter in Italy Holocaust memorial

Camp beds, biscuits and bottles of water: each night dozens of asylum seekers find refuge in an unusual yet highly symbolic place, Milan's Holocaust memorial. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How to keep cool like an ancient Roman
Travel
Chaos deepens at Rome's blaze-hit airport
National
Italy raises terror alert after attacks
National
Sardinia's poor give all to refugees
National
A beginner's guide to aperitivo in Italy
Fake Italian restaurant tops TripAdvisor ranking
National
Canton of Ticino threatens closing Italy border to asylum seekers
National
Italian grandfather, 91, completes middle school
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Is this Italy's most violent sport?
National
Italy smashes record for tallest Lego tower
Travel
Dark tourism: Italy's creepiest attractions
National
Italo-American cuisine mocked on Facebook
National
Italy's immigrants send billions back home
National
Why Italians aren’t having more babies
National
The pros and cons of being an au pair in Italy
French people told to stop scoffing Nutella in order to save planet
National
Italy: we'll hurt Europe over migrant crisis
Top that! Italy snatches pizza title from Spain
Travel
Most liveable cities: five neglected Italian gems
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Politics
Berlusconi and Putin: an enduring love
National
Italy has fourth highest petrol costs in world
Features
Six bizarre health tips Italian grans swear by
Turning away migrants 'heartless': Sicily mayor
National
Italy okays proton therapy in cancer case
Nuns stuck in lift for three nights 'drank urine'
Five insane ways EU money was blown in Italy
Yes, it's still a crime to insult Italy's president
National
Nine in ten Italians don't like Roma: survey
National
VIDEO: €619 fine for nuns' Italy beach photo trip
Politics
VIDEO: Mattarella meets Britain's Queen
National
VIDEO: Rome police help ducks cross busy road
National
Tide turning in Italy over gay marriage
National
Italian court tells veggie mum: feed your son meat
National
7 ways Italian culture will change your life
National
Italian town sets new Tiramisù record
National
US finds Pompeii frescoes robbed in 1950s
Travel
10 things to do in Milan when you visit Expo
National
Producer warns of global Prosecco shortage
IN PICTURES: Berlusconi joins Instagram
National
Italy starts to show the strains of migrant influx
Migrant gets permit for saving drowning woman
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,474
jobs available