Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is due in Washington next week to reassure the Bush administration that the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is one of its strongest European allies.
Mr. Frattini will have a working lunch Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss Italy's expanded role in Afghanistan where Mr. Frattini lifted restrictions on combat operations by the 2,600 troops stationed there, Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta told Embassy Row on Thursday. Italian soldiers were already engaged in fighting Taliban rebels in the western Herat province of Afghanistan where Italy holds regional command of NATO troops.
Mr. Frattini and Miss Rice will also discuss the prospects for Middle East, and he will review Italy's command of forces in Kosovo and Lebanon, where Rome has more than 2,000 troops in each hot spot. They will also discuss Italy's support for stronger sanctions against Iran aimed at stopping its suspected nuclear weapons program.
"This will be the first formal meeting between the foreign minister and Miss Rice since he took office in May," the ambassador said.
Mr. Frattini and Miss Rice met informally May 29 at an international conference on Iraq in Stockholm and June 12 at an international conference on Afghanistan in Paris. Mr. Frattini, who served as foreign minister from 2002 to 2004 during Mr. Berlusconi's previous term as prime minister, met Miss Rice when she was national security adviser.
Since 2004, Mr. Frattini has served as the European Union's commissioner for justice and home affairs and was a frequent visitor to Washington for talks with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Mr. Berlusconi reappointed Mr. Frattini as foreign minister after the prime minister won a third term in April elections.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq on Thursday announced a new program to grant refugee status to Iraqis whose lives were threatened for working with U.S. forces.
"With the launch of this special immigrant program, we take a significant step toward providing safe haven to those brave Iraqi citizens who risked their lives to serve the United States," Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters in Baghdad.
The United States will grant asylum to up to 5,000 Iraqis a year for the next five years under the program.
Mr. Crocker also predicted that Iraqis have a great incentive to avoid falling back into sectarian conflicts that were largely quelled because of the surge in U.S. combat troops.
"You talk to people and they just say, 'Never again. We almost destroyed ourselves,'" Mr. Crocker told the Associated Press. "There is almost a kind of embarrassment over it: 'How could we Iraqis do that?'"
A top U.S. diplomat this week tried to convince Bolivia's anti-American president that the Bush administration wants to improve bilateral relations, but the Bolivian leader produced what he cited as evidence that the United States is conspiring against him.
"We agreed that the only conspiracy that's going to exist in our bilateral relations is one against poverty, inequality and social exclusion," Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said after meeting with President Evo Morales, according to the state-run news service, the Bolivian Information Agency.
However, the agency also reported that Mr. Morales produced what he called evidence of a U.S. plot against him. Washington recalled Ambassador Philip Goldberg last month after rioters attacked the U.S. Embassy.
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