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“We Are With Rome, but Now It’s Time for Reforms”, Interview with Ambassador David Thorne

The U.S. Ambassador Thorne

The U.S. Ambassador Thorne

Rome, October 31, 2011

The following interview appeared on the daily "La Stampa" of October 31, 2011

(This is the English version of an interview published in Italian)

“US Ambassador: ‘Berlusconi’s letter to the EU is only the beginning.  Now action is needed’”

“Wearing a crew-necked sweater, his hands in constant motion and in an English filled with Italian expressions, the US Ambassador to Rome David Thorne talks about the new phase of bilateral relations focused on the economic emergency to express support to Berlusconi’s commitment to introduce reforms clarifying, however, that ‘it is the beginning of a path,’ and now they ‘must be turned into actions.’  Thorne, together with Nancy Pelosi, was one of the people behind Obama’s intervention at NIAF which coincides with the eve of the G20 summit, whose agenda will include rescuing the eurozone.”

Why did Obama choose to speak at NIAF?
This is an election year and the Italian-Americans are a very vibrant community in the United States.  This is why the President went to NIAF, choosing, however, to speaking to Italy as a whole, to underscore the bond we have with one of our most important allies, with whom we find ourselves facing difficult economic challenges.

What do you think about the letter that Berlusconi wrote to the EU regarding the commitment to reforms in Italy?
What Berlusconi wrote demonstrates an understanding of what needs to be done.  Berlusconi wants to push Italy in this direction but the problem is that the devil is in the details.  It is still unclear how this plan will be put into action.  The euphoria of the markets for the commitments made, not only by Rome, shows how important these steps are, but now we must act.  Berlusconi’s letter was a step forward, but it’s the beginning, not the end, of the path that must be tread.

How important is it to Washington that Italy resolve its economic problems?
Italy is a vital eurozone partner and we are faced with the risks of a contagion.  The commitments made four months ago are no longer enough.  Actions must demonstrate the will to face the problems.  And from our point of view, Italy has provided important responses but it must convince the markets of the true will to proceed in two directions:  lower the debt/GNP and increase growth.  Important reforms are needed.

Many doubt the government’s ability to maintain its commitments.   What do you think?
Italian politics are very complicated and the government’s mandate is no longer as strong as it used to be.  But Berlusconi knows what needs to be done and this is important also vis-à-vis the G20 where he will speak with Obama, even if no formal [meeting] has been scheduled.

What kind of relationship do Obama and Berlusconi have?
Berlusconi would like a more effusive relationship with Obama, similar to the one he had with Bush, but Obama is a different person.  Obama respects Berlusconi and what he does.  Despite all the possible criticism against Berlusconi, there is no doubt that he has always supported our positions on many issues, demonstrating great cooperation.

What were your thoughts when you saw Sarkozy and Merkel being ironic about Italy in public?
What struck me was how all of Italy, from the waiters to the political leaders of the different parties, was offended and reacted by displaying national pride, standing by Berlusconi, reinforcing the government which only a few days earlier risked falling.

What impact did the NATO intervention in Libya have on Italy-US relations?
Italy was an indispensable partner for NATO’s victory.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it clearly and the White House believes it, too.  The role carried out by Italy in the military campaign reinforced our conviction of the strategic importance of your country.

Now that the regime has fallen and Gaddafi is dead, what is most important in terms of Italy-US cooperation on Libya?
Libya is a vital interest more for Italy than for the US. You must be a part of the reconstruction, you have a true interest in getting democratic values to prevail.  America wants North Africa and the Middle East to move forward down the path of the Arab Spring, but in single countries like Libya and Tunisia, Italy has a strong role to play.

Are you cooperating with Italy in the search for 20 thousand air-to-surface missiles which have disappeared from the Libyan arsenals?
We are very concerned about these missing weapons.  We are dedicating huge resources to finding them in cooperation with all our partners, including Italy.  These weapons put at risk the security of every country with an airport.

What is your impression of Italy’s approach to the Arab Spring?
Everything began with Obama’s speech in Cairo, when he told the Arab-Muslim people that they had to build their destiny.   Italy reacted cautiously given its long-standing relations with some dictators in the region and because of the sensitivity toward immigrant issues.  But in the end it shared our approach and today you have a primary role in Libya’s transition.  Therefore, to sum it up, at first Italy hesitated in the face of the Arab Spring but then it overcame its doubts and now we have a common approach.

Is this also true for Bashar Assad’s Syria, with which Italy has strong commercial ties?
I know that Italy, and particularly Berlusconi, wants to work with the US on Syria.  Berlusconi told Obama:  “We will work with you on this issue.”  This is important for us because we want to work in a multilateral framework and it is also for this reason that we deem important the position of the Arab League which criticized the brutal repression in Syria.

Do you think Syria will be the next one in line?
It appears so.  Neither Assad nor the protestors are backpedaling and the Arab League’s intervention is an important factor.  We are witnessing a real change in a vast region and the merit goes to Obama.  We must not forget that since the beginning of the Arab revolts not one American or Israeli flag has been burned on the streets.

Maurizio Molinari interviews U.S. Ambassador Thorne