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US Backing Italy in Security Council Row?

AFPOctober 19, 2004

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has hinted strongly that the United States will side with Italy in a row with Germany over the possible enlargement of the UN Security Council, saying "we don't forget our friends."

Italy will get "every consideration," Powell saidImage: AP

In a weekend speech to the National Italian-American Foundation, Powell lauded Italy's steadfast commitment to the US-led war in Iraq, a conflict bitterly opposed by Germany, and said Washington would keep that in mind as it considers an upcoming report on UN reform that is expected to recommend expanding the Security Council.

"I can assure (you) that I am watching with great interest the report that will be forthcoming from the panel studying the reorganization of the UN," Powell said in an address to the foundation's annual dinner on Saturday in Washington.

"And when that report comes forward and we see what it recommends and how large there might be in terms of an expansion of the Security Council, if any at all, you can be absolutely sure ... that Italy will get every consideration," he said. "We don't forget our friends."

Germany, which infuriated US President George W. Bush's administration with its opposition to the Iraq war, is lobbying hard for permanent membership on the council and has launched a joint campaign with three other nations -- Japan, Brazil and India -- to win such seats.

Italy wants EU seat

But Italy opposes Germany's bid on the grounds there should be a European Union seat on the council and sees Berlin's initiative as divisive and following "national interests" at the expense of those of the EU bloc.

In talks last week outside Rome, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder failed to resolve the dispute which is likely to heat up in the coming weeks ahead of the December release of the report on UN reform.

Veto im UN Sicherheitsrat: USA blockieren UN-Resolution gegen Israel
The Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New YorkImage: AP

The US, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, hold permanent seats on the Security Council, with power to veto any matter brought before it.

To date, the US has expressed support only for Japan joining the Security Council as a permanent member and has been non-committal on other bids, although Powell said earlier this month that Brazil was a "solid" and "serious" candidate.

Praise for Berlusconi

While not directly endorsing Italy's position or mentioning Germany's candidacy, Powell's vow that Washington would remember its "friends" in Rome appeared to be a firm signal that Berlin's ambition for permanent council membership is not high on the US agenda.

Powell heaped praise on Berlusconi for staying the course in Iraq and keeping Italy's 3,000 troops there despite widespread domestic opposition to the war and the abductions by insurgents of Italian citizens, at least one of whom, a journalist, was killed.

"In all of these difficult months, never once has Prime Minister Berlusconi or (Foreign Minister) Franco Frattini or anyone in the Italian government blinked," he said. "Not once did they stand back and say maybe we better take another look. Not once.

"They've always been with us," Powell said, according to a transcript of the remarks released by the State Department. "We draw strength from the shared conviction that our two countries are part of a noble mission."

Italy is the third-biggest contributor to the US-led coalition in Iraq but deployed its troops to the southern part of the country only after the US and Britain had completed the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.