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Italy's PM Urges Alliance of Democracies Against Terrorists, Extremism

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, says the world's democratic nations must unite to defend against radical Islamic fundamentalism. The Italian leader addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.

Prime Minister Berlusconi delivered most of his address in Italian to a packed House chamber.

However, addressing lawmakers in English at the beginning of his speech, he expressed gratitude for the U.S. role in defeating Italian Fascism and German Nazism, as well as what he called the struggle against Communism.

Mr. Berlusconi drew prolonged applause when he turned to the war on terrorism.

"Today, I am still grateful to the United States for the high price in lives you continue to pay in the fight against terrorism to assure our common security and defend human rights around the world," he said. "As I will never tire of repeating, when I see your flag I do not merely see the flag of a great country. Above all, I see a symbol, a universal symbol of freedom and democracy."

The Italian leader said the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States marked the start of a different type of war.

This new conflict, he said, is not a clash of states or civilizations, or an attack by Islam on the West which is allied with moderate Islam, but an attack by radical fundamentalists trying to use terrorism against democracies.

"I am firmly convinced that in addition to the generous effort by your great country, a grand alliance of all democracies is needed to defend this frontier," said Mr. Berlusconi. "It is only by joining the efforts of all the democracies on all continents that we will be able to free the world from the threat of international terrorism, from the fear of aggression by the forces of evil."

Only a grand alliance of all democracies, said Mr. Berlusconi, can defend what he called a frontier of liberty from international terrorism.

Italy has confirmed its intention to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year, a subject that came up in Mr. Berlusconi's talks Tuesday with President Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

In his speech to Congress, he noted that Italy has contributed troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, as well as commanding United Nations missions in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Reverting to English again, the Italian leader offered U.S. lawmakers a memory of his father taking him to a cemetery containing the graves of U.S. soldiers killed in fighting during World War II.

"In showing him those crosses, that father made his son vow never to forget the ultimate sacrifice those young American soldiers had made for his freedom. That father made his son vow eternal gratitude to that country," said Mr. Berlusconi. "That father was my father, and that young man was me. I have never forgotten that sacrifice and that vow, and I never will."

Prime Minister Berlusconi's address came as U.S. lawmakers are preoccupied both with the situation in Iraq, and the controversy over the pending U.S. port management deal with Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

He faces a tough battle for re-election in Italy next month.

Other foreign leaders addressing Congress in recent years include British Prime Minister Tony Blair, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Spain's former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.