Italian and Israeli leaders airbrush Rome’s thriving trade with Tehran

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and foreign minister Franco Frattini were forced to spend part of their official visit to Israel, which climaxed in Berlusconi's exceptionally friendly address to the Knesset Wednesday, Feb. 3, in fending off questions about Rome's expanding trade ties with Iran, detailed on Jan 31 by debkafile.

Italian PM Berlusconi said Tuesday that the state-controlled oil giant Eni SpA had withdrawn from a development phase of a southern Iranian oilfield. "We are absolutely firm about blocking new investments in the oil and gas,'" he said, adding that Italy would not cosign future economic projects with Tehran.

His silence on current rather than future investments shows which way the wind is blowing.

In Rome, Eni spokesmen declined any comment.
European petroleum experts stress however that pulling out of Iran was "no big deal" for the Italian oil giant, since it was producing no more than 15,000 barrels of oil out of a total of 1.7 million barrels a day at the Darkhovin oil field and South Pars offshore operation.
Frattini fielded media questions by announcing that Rome had suspended export credit guarantees to firms investing in Iran and stopped the operation of Italian insurance companies in that country.

In an interview to Italian Channel 7, the foreign minister said that Rome had no secrets from Israel and would share with Jerusalem all the information concerning its business with Iran.

He added that Italian-Iranian commerce had been reduced by nearly half in recent years.
But debkafile's sources report that the data from the Italy's Central Statistics Bureau and Chamber of Commerce tell a different story.

In 2008, Italian exports to Iran expanded by 17% to seven million euros, constituting a quarter of Europe's total trade with the Islamic Republic. Sources in Rome say the 2009 figures not yet released show an upward trend. The Italian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce is still the largest in Rome and staffed by Berlusconi's top officials, among them UN delegate Cesare Ragaglini, Ambassador to Tehran Alberto Bradanini and Amedeo Teti, director of trade relations at the Italian ministry for economic development.  Since all three would have key roles in any tough economic sanctions policies for Iran, the Berlusconi administration as it stands today would appear to be heading in the opposite direction.

A final tidbit which is nonetheless illuminating: On orders from the offices of his prime minister and foreign ministers, Vittorio Maria Boccia is the only Western military attaché in Tehran to regularly attend all of Iran's military parades. From a place of honor on the viewing stand, he sits cheek by jowl with the top brass of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and al Qods Brigades, to watch the new missiles and weapons systems roll by with their banners, “Wipe Israel off the map”.
debkafile's sources are less surprised by the Italian leaders' two-track policy than the way Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers have withheld comment, especially when Italy's sales list for Iran includes items useful for its clandestine nuclear projects. Their deafening silence is hardly designed to spur the international community into a tough campaign against Tehran's drive for a nuclear weapon or deter Iran from its course.




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