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Italian, British Defense Ministers to Discuss Italian Withdrawal From Iraq


Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi says his defense minister will meet soon with Britain's secretary of defense to discuss the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. The announcement followed a meeting Friday between Mr. Prodi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Following a long working lunch with Mr. Blair, Mr. Prodi said discussions focused on Iraq, the Middle East and European issues.

Mr. Prodi said Italian troops in Iraq operate in an area that is under British command, and, therefore, a bilateral meeting is important at this time. He said Italy's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq has been taken, and added that what he discussed with Mr. Blair was how to put this withdrawal into effect.

Mr. Prodi said the British and Italian defense ministers would be meeting to discuss the details.

"The defense ministers of Italy and Britain will meet soon to coordinate the details of the return of Italian troops," he said. He added that this would also be coordinated with local authorities, who are in constant contact with the British command in Iraq.

An aide to the Italian prime minister said the meeting would probably take place in a matter of days.

A British diplomatic source said Italy's position on withdrawing Italian troops was known for some time, and did not represent a surprise. He said Britain respected the decisions taken by national governments.

Italy has about 2,700 troops in Iraq. Mr. Prodi, whose new government took office in mid-May, has pledged to withdraw the troops as soon as possible. His predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, had also pledged to pull out all Italian troops by the end of the year.

Around 1,000 Italian troops are expected to return home this month.

Mr. Prodi said another of the main issues discussed with Mr. Blair was the nuclear standoff with Iran. He said both Italy and Britain support the efforts made by the United States in recent hours to launch more open and advanced negotiations with Tehran.

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