- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

ITALY LOVES OBAMA

The Italian ambassador sounds as excited about President Obama as any starry-eyed fan of the new U.S. leader.

“It’s a great honor to be in Washington [now] and to follow the American situation,” Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Thursday.

“In Italy, [Mr. Obama’s election] was received as great news - the first African-American president and a change in America’s position in the world. We welcomed this election.”

Mr. Castellaneta said Mr. Obama and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi “share many positions,” even though the Italian leader is head of a center-right Forza Italia, or Forward Italy, party and the Democratic president was one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate.

The ambassador listed “climate change, the environment and energy” as common concerns of both men.

Mr. Castellaneta dismissed suggestions that the political positions held by Mr. Obama and Mr. Berlusconi will lead to tensions in the bilateral relationship. He noted that Mr. Berlusconi established good working ties with President Clinton, who was considered a centrist Democrat, during his first term as prime minister from 1994 to 1995.

“We had very good relations with the Clinton administration, and Berlusconi was there,” Mr. Castellaneta said. “We also had good relations with the Bush administration, and I think we will have excellent relations with the new administration.”

The two leaders this week set a positive tone when Mr. Obama telephoned Mr. Berlusconi to discuss a range of issues in a half-hour conversation, Mr. Castellaneta said. Their discussion included plans for a series of economic summits, which begin Friday with a Rome meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The ambassador also downplayed a newspaper article, published Wednesday, by Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, who said Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan risks “sowing the seeds” of a new financial crisis.

Mr. Castellaneta noted that the Italian government under Mr. Berlusconi is the most stable in postwar history. Italy’s government has change hands 61 times since 1945.

Mr. Berlusconi is serving his fourth term as leader of the Italian government, and Mr. Castellaneta expects him to win yet another term because of his support in parliament. His three-party coalition holds 344 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 174 seats in the 315-seat Senate.

CHINA WATCHING

The global financial troubles might be just the cure for China’s aging iron and steel factories, Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week.

Mr. Zhou on Tuesday predicted that the Chinese government will close inefficient plants and merge them with newer ones to save money and energy, the university reported in its daily newsletter.

“This is an opportunity for restructuring. You will see a lot of mergers in China,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Zhou also explained that China, one of the world’s most polluted nations, adopted a plan four years ago to reduce harmful industrial emissions and improve energy efficiency by 2010.

“China is probably the first country which has come up with a national plan for energy efficiency and control of major pollutants,” he said.

Mr. Zhou added that China, which holds about $1 trillion in U.S. debt, is committed to the international market.

“There is no doubt we are living in a global village,” he said. “We are all in the same boat. The glory or detriment of one is the glory or detriment of all.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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