Italy makes play for world role

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The Independent Online
ANTONIO MARTINO, the Foreign Minister, returned from Washington yesterday after the first round of the new right-wing government's drive to turn Italy from a small to a medium-sized player on the world stage.

He insisted, in talks with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and other American leaders, that Italy should have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council if it were enlarged to 10 members. He also demanded that Italy be included in the international contact group on Bosnia.

Professor Martino reportedly insisted that it would be 'unacceptable' if these demands were rejected, but did not appear to get enthusiastic support from his hosts on either.

Under its old political leadership Italy was a dutiful ally of the United States and an unquestioning supporter of European unity without any desire for a high profile. Professor Martino's task in Washington was to reassure the Americans that the government which has five ministers from the neo-Fascist- led National Alliance, was respectable and democratic - he also reportedly insisted it was 'centrist', not right-wing - and that the continuity of Italian foreign policy would be maintained, although the style is definitely changing.

Previous Italian governments had been angling quietly for a Security Council seat - Italian participation in peace-keeping and humanitarian activities was part of the strategy. But Professor Martino was the first to propose it openly.

The demand for a voice in Bosnia was at least partly rooted in bitter experiences in Somalia where the Italians, who had no say in co-ordination, had fierce differences with the Americans over tactics and where their troops suffered repercussions after US attacks made without consultation.

Although Italy has no troops in Bosnia so far, it is within missile range of former Yugoslavia and has already received threats from the Serbs - so far without consequences - for allowing its air bases to be used for Nato flights into the area.

Meanwhile, the government has offered to contribute contingents to UN operations in Bosnia and, if the conditions are right, in Rwanda.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper yesterday warned of the 'danger of foolish ambitions' and advised, 'watch out for boomerangs'.