Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said on Friday that he would oppose European Union sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, and favored a dialogue with Tehran’s leaders instead.
In an interview that appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro, Prodi said he had “no confidence” in European sanctions, and objected that they “would not be shared by other countries.”
Prodi’s unwillingness to go along with European Union efforts to craft stricter economic sanctions on Iran, was a slap in the face to the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany, all of whom have been calling for a unified European approach to pressure Iran into rolling backing its uranium-enrichment program.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has expressed reluctance to go for sanctions in the past, changed her tune just before visiting with President George W. Bush at his Texas ranch on Nov. 7.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister have repeatedly warned that a failure to apply meaningful economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran could lead to war, and have worked behind the scenes to move the EU in that direction.
“If the sanctions at the moment are not sufficient, then I would like stronger sanctions,” Sarkozy said in September, as the United Nations was contemplating a third U.N. Security Council resolution to increase economic pressure on Tehran.
Until now, U.S. diplomats have referred to Germany as the “squeaky wheel” among the Western nations in the effort to step up economic sanctions on Iran.
But Italy’s socialist prime minister has become the new bete-noir of Europe.
Ever since he edged out his pro-American predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, in razor-thin elections in April 2006, Prodi has moved Italy further and further from the American orbit, even as his European partners have sought to renew their partnership with the Bush administration.
Prodi completed the withdrawal of Italy’s 3,000 troops from Iraq by the end of 2006, at the same time he began to champion Iran’s “right” to nuclear technology.
In September 2006, his foreign minister, Massimo D’Alena, called Iran’s desire to develop nuclear energy “legitimate.”
That December, Prodi called the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “rational,” and said that he believed Iran’s objective was “not a nuclear bomb, but rather recognition of its leading status in the region.”
During a trip to Japan in Feburary 2007, Prodi let slip the real reason behind those warm, fuzzy words.
Italy had now surpassed Germany as Iran’s biggest trading partner in Europe, he said. The stakes were just too high for Italy to join in either United Nations or European Union sanctions that might hurt his country’s export sales.
Italy has been a good ally in other areas, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, where it has sent peacekeeping troops.
But on Iran, it continues to oppose U.S. and European efforts to tighten economic and financial sanctions.
Earlier this week, Newsmax learned from sources in Paris, the French government weighed in with private and state-owned banks to cut off most U.S. dollar transactions with Iran, with the exception of payments for Iranian oil.
Some payments in euros by Iran on existing contracts could continue, but only with prior approval of national banking authorities.
Citing new European Union regulations, the French also banned all business in either euros and dollars with the Bank Sepah, a state-owned bank used extensively by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards corps for overseas purchases.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has cited Bank Sepah for its involvement in missile and nuclear technology procurement.
In addition, according to a copy of the new French regulations obtained by Newsmax, the French government has banned all new letters of credit or export guarantees for trade with Iran.
Prodi’s statements to Le Figaro appeared to indicate that his government would not enact the new EU banking regulations on Iran.
On Saturday, the political directors of the permanent five members of the U.N. Security council plus Germany will meet again in Paris to discuss joint action outside the UN to increase the pressure on Iran.
But a third U.N. Security Council resolution does not appear to be on the table.
Briefing reporters on Friday at the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said that the goal of the meeting was to encourage “individual actions that countries will take such as the steps that we have taken to cut off the ability of certain Iranian financial institutions from accessing U.S. as well as international financial markets,” rather than a new UN security council resolution.
Italy is currently one of the ten non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
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