MARGARET BECKETT :
Thank you very much for coming. I am delighted to welcome the Italian Foreign Minister, Massimo D'Alema, to Chevening on what I think is your first visit to the UK as Foreign Minister. We have had a very good discussion, reflecting I think the very strong and excellent relationship that exists between our two countries. Most of our discussion did range on one of the key and urgent issues in foreign affairs today, events around the Middle East, not least of course because Massimo himself has been in the region recently and our own Prime Minister has been there over the weekend and I believe is still there today. And we shared concerns about the potential future of the region and about the need to try to advance the cause of peace. I also took the opportunity to express the very great appreciation of the British government for the contribution that Italy is making both in Lebanon, with the contribution of troops to UNIFIL, also in Afghanistan and the work that has been done and the way things have been handled in Iraq.
So we have a strong and appreciative partnership. We touched on other issues around the Middle East and also in Europe, but I think the key thing was to reaffirm how much common ground there is between Italy and the United Kingdom, how much we share our concerns and share often an analysis of where problems arise and how they can be addressed, and how anxious we all are to work together to resolve some of these problems in the future.MR D'ALEMA:
I would like to thank Secretary Margaret Beckett for her hospitality and for hosting me in this splendid residence. It is a mansion and it is a place for friends, not just for partners of the United Kingdom. We have come here as friends to confirm and relaunch our common efforts between the two countries, a common effort first and foremost on the most sensitive issues - peace, security and of the struggle against terrorism in the Middle East.
The United Kingdom has helped greatly in the effort to find solutions and in the joint European effort that has been going on this summer. And though it decided not to deploy its own troops on the ground in Lebanon, also because at present the UK have a huge amount of troops deployed in Iraq, in Afghanistan, where the British armed forces are standing up to the dramatic attacks of the guerrillas. However, British military support for the mission in Lebanon is very important in terms of quality, in terms of the technology of the aircraft, and in terms of the political support that the United Kingdom is giving to the European effort. This political support has been ongoing and has been very significant.
I believe that during last summer we have given a concrete example of what a common foreign and security policy can be for Europe. We have taken a step towards a results-oriented Europe, towards a Europe of delivery, which is what European public opinion can appreciate, something which can bring the citizens of the European Union closer to the Union itself and to its institutions. We agree about the need now to concentrate our efforts towards opening up a new hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This, in these recent days, has been the heart of Tony Blair's visit to the region and it is the priority that the Italian government is committed to. We have first of all encouraged a breakthrough, a change among Palestinians for a government of national unity to be formed, clearly based on the conditions set by the Quartet for a government that should recognise the agreements, the commitments signed by the Palestinian Authority in the past, and hence recognising Israel as a partner in negotiations being clearly committed against violence and hence enabling the resumption of negotiations. At the same time we have encouraged Israel to reduce the pressure that has created so many serious problems and for which the Palestinian population has paid such a high price.
Now there seems to be some sign that something is changing, a gleam of hope. We have just heard of important new developments and the news just came as we were meeting, in the course of our meeting. Of course it is just fresh news so we cannot comment on the details of these new developments which however do seem to be going in the right direction, opening up new hopes. We are convinced, we do believe that a resumption of the peace process in Palestine can be a very important signal to strengthen the cooperation between the United States, Europe, the international community and the Arab world, so-called moderate Arabs, and this cooperation among all these actors is essential in order to isolate the extremists and defeat terrorism.
So we do intend to continue working together along this road in this process and we will be working together both in the European arena and in the very important meetings to be held in New York during the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Let me end by repeating my deep felt thanks to Margaret Beckett because having identified these common concerns and views on the very eve of the talks to be held in New York, in my opinion will enable us to work together towards meeting these shared objectives and achievements.QUESTION:
Foreign Secretary, could you give me some idea, how much damage do you think that was done to the Labour Party during last week's events, and do you agree with John Prescott, speaking this morning, that if the infighting continues, Labour could lose the next election?MARGARET BECKETT :
I don't think there is any doubt that one thing that the British people particularly dislike is to see their politicians apparently falling out, one with another, and that there is very much shared ground, very much a shared agenda for the Labour Party and for the Labour government, which is to address the issues of real importance to the British people, that we are doing that, that we will continue to do that, but that it must be more clear that that is our priority. Otherwise there is no doubt in my mind that harm will be done. But as the Italian Foreign Minister was just identifying, it is also clear that there are many events taking place of great importance, not just in this country, but across the world, and it is very important that as a government we are giving those the highest priority, and that we are seen to be, and that of course is exactly what the Prime Minster is doing in the Middle East at the present.QUESTION:
Could you comment in greater detail on what you have talked about concerning Iran?MR D'ALEMA:
Certainly we have shared views about Iran, and of course we are talking in a situation, in a condition where it is not clear whether the efforts by Javier Solana on behalf of all of us may meet with success or not. That is not clear as yet. First of all I do believe that this is a good opportunity to express our best wishes of success to Mr Solana. He has had an important meeting and he will resume the talks in the course of this week. Our position is very clear. We do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. We believe that this would be a danger and would be a destabilising factor in an area where there are already lots of dangers. We are seeking a solution, a settlement, first of all through negotiation, and we are offering Iran a recognition of their role in the region, and we are also asking Iran to cooperate towards stability and peace-making in the whole region. We continue hoping that the Iranian leadership will respond to this offer and accept it. It is a political offer and at the same time it is an offer of scientific and economic cooperation. If it were not to be so, if they were not to respond, it is clear enough that since there was a UN Security Council resolution, clearly the question in that case would go back to the UN Security Council.QUESTION:
Mr Minister, could you tell us a little about this Italian initiative that is being talked about of having some Customs officials on the borders with Syria? Then there is another question. Today is the anniversary of September 11 and there is a lot of talk about the results of the war on terror, some say there have been no results, has it been won or lost? Can you give us your opinion?MR D'ALEMA:
Well the second question you have asked would deserve being answered at much greater length. Maybe I can be interviewed by your paper to tell you about it.
Let me answer the first question. I informed my colleague, my British colleague, about this Italian initiative, and also I have told her about how Syria reacted to it. Their answer seems to open the way to the possibility for some European officials, not military officials, civilian officials, to be present at the border crossings between Lebanon and Syria to cooperate with the Syrian border guards in patrolling, in monitoring the situation along those borders. This is an interesting opening. There should be no misunderstandings about this because in recent days there have been misunderstandings about it, I don't know if intentional or not, saying that Syria was willing to host European troops. Well such misunderstandings lead to new misunderstandings and so forth. Let's stop that. We are not talking about troops, these are civilian representatives, civilian officials. However, their open position is important, of course we have to find out more it in concrete terms, and it is not up to Italy to do that because this is just a suggestion that we are passing on to the European Union. We are going to submit this proposal to the European Union in the coming hours, hoping that the European Union accepts to explore the possibility for this mission with their Syrian counterpart, trying to find out whether it is feasible and in what concrete terms.QUESTION:
I have a question for both Ministers. A question for Secretary Beckett. Apparently British troops are going through some hard times in Afghanistan in recent weeks and are under attack by the Taleban, and in hunting the Taleban trying to return. What would you expect from the Italian troops deployed in Herat (phon) Province, what kind of support are you expecting to get? And I have the same question for Minister D'Alema. Have you talked about this and what are your expectations, how would you react in case Secretary Beckett were to ask for this kind of cooperation?MARGARET BECKETT :
We didn't talk about the specifics of troop deployment in Afghanistan. As you say, over the last few weeks we were expecting things not to be easy in Afghanistan. The form of the difficulty has perhaps been a little different from what our soldiers were initially expecting, and so we are seeing how we can tackle that. But we have nothing but praise for the help and support and the role being played by Italian troops in Afghanistan. I believe our commanders are talking to NATO as a whole about whether there are other assets for example that can be released which will make the task that is being undertaken a little easier to deal with efficiently. But obviously that is through NATO as a whole and as I say, as I repeat, we are deeply appreciative of the work and the cooperation of our Italian colleagues.MR D'ALEMA:
Well actually I don't quite understand what your question is all about insofar as in Afghanistan we are performing the tasks assigned to us by NATO. We have not avoided anything, we have not dodged any kind of requests by anyone. And let me add that that is quite a complex scenario where it is not easy to meet the targets that were set by the conference generating the force, and in this scenario Italy is one of the countries that has respected those pledges and has complied with what was required of us, despite the fact that Italy is not a big military power, and despite the fact that we have quite a substantial presence on two sensitive scenarios, one is the war crimes and the other is Lebanon and the Middle East. So I am not expecting the Italian press to be proud of that or claim that, but insinuating doubts in the opposite sense is not what I would expect. But as to the British troops, they are in a particularly sensitive position, they are exposed to danger because we sense a responsibility, ... sacrifice, they have accepted to cover the most difficult front which is in the south of the country in the context of a division of labour amongst the forces of NATO, and we are all aware of that. We do acknowledge this effort and appreciate this effort by the British forces.QUESTION:
I have a question for both Ministers, Minister D'Alema and Secretary Beckett. Minister D'Alema, could you help us understand why at the beginning of this press conference Minister Beckett said that we totally agree and share the same positions with Italy, and it was the same thing they said with the Berlusconi government. But we know that the strategy of foreign policy of Italy has changed, so I wonder why in a recent interview you said that in talking with Condaleeza Rice you had the impression that the Anglo-Americans are sort of rethinking their policy on the Middle East. Have you had the impression that London is coming closer to the new Italian position of getting... So it is a bit puzzling.MARGARET BECKETT :
Let me just say one thing. I was talking particularly. There is a great deal of common ground in terms of our analysis of what is an evolving situation, particularly in the Middle East. Foreign Minister D'Alema pointed out to you the events which have been unfolding, even as we have been meeting, and I think in common with I would say most, if not all, of the political parties across Europe there are the same anxieties about the dangers of not making progress on peace in the Middle East. It is hard to think off-hand of any political party, whatever their overall philosophy or their domestic differences may be, that would not recognise the dangers of the position in the Middle East, not recognise that although greater moves towards peace in Palestine and Israel, between Palestine and Israel, are not sufficient for peace and stability for the whole region, they are necessary. You will never really get peace and stability in the region as a whole unless you can move forward on this particular very, very difficult issue. And I think it is actually both natural and encouraging that responsible governments, of whatever political party, looking at the international scene, do actually identify common problems and see the need to work together on them. And as the position changes in the Middle East, so all governments are moving and responding to that position. I mean who would have predicted a month ago, two months ago, that we would have what appears to be, and obviously we will both wait to see the details, but what appears to be quite an encouraging announcement coming from Palestine, after all the terrible events of recent weeks. So I think it is not as surprising as you seem to find it that there should be a common understanding of what the position is, and also a common concern to try and move in the right direction.MR D'ALEMA:
We needn't have a debate about Italian foreign policy in recent years here, this is not the right place to do that. My opinion is very clear and simple. Our government has a foreign policy platform and the basis of this platform is relaunching a multilateral vision of international relations. More specifically, the need, we are focusing on the need to be focused on the role of the United Nations as the centre of our effort, and promoting the common effort and role of the European Union for a positive process to develop in the Middle East. We have always believed, and we have said it over the course of these years, that the heart of the conflict is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we have always been convinced that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have a spillover effect in the region which other solutions, which other policies have not led to.
So we are working hard against the background of the Security Council resolution, of a European common effort, and trying to focus on the Palestinian issue as the centre of our efforts. This is our foreign policy, which is perfectly in line with what was written on our platform, on our political platform, so we are just implementing that policy. And if in the course of implementing that policy and that platform we develop convergence in our intents, and opinions and views with our partners, this is very positive indeed. Clearly we are in a new international scenario, compared to difficult developments in the past and to the divergences that have existed a few years ago. I told the Italian parliament too, it would be childish to say that the new development is the Italian government, certainly it is not. So there is a new scenario, and we, the Italian government, are contributing towards this new scenario, and in my view the really new development is this common perspective, this common vision by the major European countries, proving that when Europe is united it can actually play an important role in changing the perspectives of the international situation.