- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

ROME — Deep divisions on foreign policy emerged within Italy’s center-left coalition yesterday, with hard-line communists attacking moderate Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s pro-American stance as he prepared to meet Condoleezza Rice in Washington today.

“D’Alema spent all day underlining everything that unites Italy and the United States,” the left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper said of the minister’s preparations for the meeting.

Although a former communist, Mr. D’Alema is considered more pro-NATO than Prime Minister Romano Prodi and as prime minister in 1999 he led Italy’s support for the U.S.-led war against Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Now he has opened a public rift with his own deputy by announcing his government’s intention to boost its troop presence in Afghanistan even as it carries out an election pledge to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Deputy Foreign Minister Patrizia Sentinelli, a pacifist and a member of the hard-line Communist Refoundation Party, was outraged by the announcement, diplomatic sources said.

“We don’t accept a relaunch of NATO” in Afghanistan, she said publicly.

Her position was echoed by another Refoundation parliamentary leader, Elettra Deiana, who said Italy should end its foreign military deployments everywhere, not just in Iraq.

Refoundation’s pacifist wing is supported by the environmentalist Greens in Mr. Prodi’s coalition.

“The request for more troops is not justified,” said Loredana De Petris, a Green foreign affairs spokeswoman.

Political sources said that the divisions could bring down the government, which emerged from April elections with a razor-thin majority in the upper house of parliament.

Mr. Prodi has asked Fausto Bertinotti, the Communist Refoundation leader and Senate speaker, to mediate between radicals in his party and reformists in the center of the coalition, the sources said.

“The Refoundation leader does not want the government to fall, [but] he fears a backlash by the party rank and file,” La Repubblica reported.

Mr. D’Alema has signaled his desire for good relations with Washington in other ways, saying in a speech this week that “a strong Europe must be conceived as a partner with the United States, not a counterweight” to Washington.

The remarks, released in advance by the Foreign Ministry, appeared to directly repudiate past suggestions by Mr. Prodi that a strong Europe could serve as a counterweight to the United States.

Speaking in Brussels before leaving for Washington last night, Mr. D’Alema also indicated that he would not dwell in Washington on the case of Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer fatally shot by U.S. troops in Iraq while rescuing an Italian hostage.

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