Governments may come and go, but Italy-US friendship endures
In the midst of turmoil in the world's affairs, one factor remains constant: US-Italian friendship. It makes no difference that a conservative Republican is President of the United States nor that Italy has a socialist prime minister. Italy's Prime Minister Bettino Craxi is to see President Reagan at the White House Thursday, and diplomats say that one of his main aims is to strengthen further Italy's US ties.
While West Germans debate the planned deployment of new US missiles in Europe , Italians support the decision with a steadfastness that is remarkable. Italy is to be the site of a cruise missile deployment. But even the Italian communist party, which opposes the deployment, is not taking its protest to the streets, apparently because it does not want to be too openly identified with the Soviet Union on the issue.
Like their American counterparts, Italian government officials argue that until the Soviet Union is convinced that the NATO allies are going ahead with the deployments, it will not negotiate seriously over possible reduction of medium-range missiles in Europe.
The Italian commitment to the deployment of 112 cruise missiles in Sicily is crucial, because the West German government has said that it would not approve a deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany unless one other nonnuclear West European nation also deploys new missiles.
While it has been little publicized, Italian cooperation with the United States has extended well beyond this controversial issue. Italy supported the American responses to the hostage-taking in Iran, to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and to the military crackdown in Poland.
According to American officials, the Italians took the lead in persuading fellow members of the European Community to support the international peacekeeping force patrolling the Sinai desert between Egypt and Israel. Italy is a participant in that force, just as it is a member of the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, where its troops outnumber those of the US marines. When the Americans used naval gunfire to support their marines, the French foreign minister criticized the action. His Italian counterpart said he understood the American tactic.
A rare high point of appreciation for what Italy has done for this country came in 1982, when Italian anti-terrorist forces liberated US Army Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier from his Red Brigades captors. But it is often forgotten that the Italians like to be considered one of America's four major partners, alongside Britain, France, and West Germany. It is also sometimes not recognized that Italy is one of the six leading industrialized democracies.
The reasons behind the fact that there is less opposition in Italy to new missile deployment than there is in Britain and West Germany are several and complex. One is that in northern Europe, churches are active in opposing deployment, whereas the Roman Catholic church in Italy is not.
Although he is a socialist, Prime Minister Craxi is one of those who believes that the Soviet Union is the worst enemy of democratic socialism. The first socialist to become prime minister and the youngest president of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Italy, Craxi for the first time has severed ties between his party and the communist party of Italy.
Craxi's talks with President Reagan on Thursday are expected to focus on European security, the planned missile deployments, and on Lebanon. If there is any point of disagreement between the Italians and Americans, it is likely to be over Central America. The Italians are convinced that a political solution is the only answer to the problems of Central America. But this subject is not expected to arise in any significant way in the Reagan-Craxi talks.