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Italy's Prime Minister Addresses Parliament After Visiting US - 2004-05-20


Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, addressed parliament after returning from Washington where he met U.S. President George Bush. The Italian president told parliament that plans for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq are moving forward.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said international efforts to restore peace in Iraq are progressing and that Italy will remain in the country. He said he is committed to supporting a new U.N. resolution and peace plan for the violence-stricken country.

The Italian prime minister explained the reasons for his government's decision.

He said that for the freedom of the Iraqi people, for a sense of responsibility toward the international community, for the building of a future of peace for all, the government does not intend to have Italy withdraw from its responsibilities.

Mr. Berlusconi addressed parliament just hours after returning from Washington where he met President Bush. He said there is a clear timetable for the transfer of power to Iraqis in the coming weeks that will give the United Nations a greater role.

He told parliamentarians that a new credible and authoritative leader for an interim Iraqi government has been identified but did not provide a name and added that the candidate has yet to accept. Mr. Berlusconi added that a back-up candidate has also been selected, should the first one refuse the job.

The center-right government in Italy has been under intense pressure to withdraw the approximately 3,000 troops it has in Iraq, particularly after the killing of one of its soldiers this week.

However, Mr. Berlusconi made clear Italy would remain faithful to the objectives of what he called "its mission of peace" and will remain in Iraq until the country can govern itself in security and freedom.

To withdraw now, Mr. Berlusconi said, would mean abandoning a crucial country in the Middle East to chaos, it would mean condemning 24 million people to the prospect of a dreadful civil war, it would mean debilitating international action against terrorism.

The Italian prime minister said that a new U.N. resolution on Iraq could be expected within the first three weeks of June. He added that this new resolution would give international legitimacy to the new Iraqi government and change the role of foreign troops in Iraq.

Despite Mr. Berlusconi's reassurances, the opposition continued to demand a pull-out of Italian troops. Members of the center-left parties said the Italian mission has turned into one of war. Fausto Bertinotti is one of Italy's Communist leaders.

"You spoke of a mission of peace and induced parliament to vote for a mission of peace, but a war is under way and the facts support this," Mr. Bertinotti said. "Italian soldiers shoot and die in a foreign land and the Italian government is responsible for this."

Italy's center-left opposition parties presented a motion calling for the withdrawal of Italian troops in Iraq. The motion was easily defeated and Mr. Berlusconi blasted the decision to propose such a motion, calling it a sign of weakness. He said that he was stunned by the opposition's lack of responsibility.

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