- Associated Press - Sunday, December 23, 2012

ROME (AP) — Italian caretaker Premier Mario Monti said Sunday he won’t run in February elections, but if political parties that back his anti-crisis agenda ask him to head the next government, he would consider the offer.

Mr. Monti ruled out heading any ticket himself, saying, “I have no sympathy for ‘personal’ parties.”

At a news conference, Mr. Monti made clear he was spurning an offer from his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi to run on a center-right election ticket backed by the media mogul, citing Mr. Berlusconi’s heavy criticism of his economic policies.

Mr. Monti‘s decision ends weeks of speculation that have dominated Italian politics and preoccupied Europe, which is eager to see Mr. Monti’s financial reforms continue.

The premier, an economist who has spent 13 months tasked with trying to right Italy’s troubled economy, said Mr. Berlusconi’s flipping back and forth between condemning the government’s economic policies and then praising the premier convinced him that “I couldn’t accept his offer.”

Mr. Monti was tapped by Italy’s president to lead the country after Mr. Berlusconi was forced to resign, having lost the confidence of international markets. Mr. Monti stepped down Friday after Mr. Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support from his technical government but has been asked stay on in a caretaker capacity in the run-up to Feb. 24-25 elections.

Other centrist parties in Parliament have been urging him to run for another stint as premier. Mr. Monti said, “I won’t line up with anyone,” but he made clear he was available to head the next government.

“If one or more political forces is credibly backing (my) agenda or even has a better one, I’d evaluate the offer,” Mr. Monti said.

“To those forces who demonstrate convincing and credible adherence to (my) agenda, I will be ready to give encouragement, and if necessary, lead” the country, he said.

Mr. Monti expressed gratitude to Mr. Berlusconi for his backing of key anti-crisis measures but said, “I struggle to understand his line of thought.”

“Yesterday, we read that he assessed the work of the (Monti) government to be a complete disaster. A few days earlier, I read flattering things,” he said.

The logic of Mr. Berlusconi’s positions “escapes me,” and “I couldn’t accept his offer,” Mr. Monti said, drawing chuckles.

Mr. Monti praised his government and Parliament for its support of spending cuts, new taxes and pension reform that he said had saved Italy from succumbing to the debt crisis.

“Italians as citizens can hold their heads up high in Europe,” Mr. Monti said, noting Italy had avoided the kind of bailouts that Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus have been forced to take.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved Parliament after Mr. Monti handed in his resignation following approval of the country’s national budget law. Mr. Monti noted that as a senator-for-life, he remains in Parliament and thus doesn’t need to run for a seat in the legislature.

Mr. Napolitano set elections two months before their expected date, recognizing that without Mr. Berlusconi’s support for Mr. Monti, it was useless to wait until late April for Italians to go to the ballot box.

Voter opinion polls indicate a centrist ticket backing Mr. Monti would take about 15 percent of the vote, meaning any government headed by him would have to have the support of either of Italy’s largest political groupings: the center-right, led by Mr. Berlusconi, or the center-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani.

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