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Berlusconi: Death of Italian Agent Will Not Harm Italy - US Relations

Silvio Berlusconi
Italy's prime minister told parliament the killing by U.S. troops of an Italian intelligence officer in Baghdad would not harm relations between the two countries. He also ruled out Italian troop withdrawal from Iraq at the present time.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made clear that relations between Italy and the United States would not be affected after the killing of the Italian secret agent by U.S. forces March 4 in Baghdad.

Mr. Berlusconi addressed parliament three days after Italy published its report of the investigation into the killing.

The U.S. report said the car was speeding, didn't heed warning lights and shots, and said better coordination between the Italians and Americans could have prevented the tragedy. But, Mr. Berlusconi contended the temporary checkpoint set up along the dangerous highway to Baghdad airport wasn't properly marked.

The slain agent, Nicola Calipari, was escorting a freed hostage, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, to the airport. Ms. Sgrena and another intelligence agent in the vehicle were wounded in the shooting.

Although the investigation was a joint one, after nearly two months the two countries were unable to agree on common conclusions.

Mr. Berlusconi said Italy disagreed with some of the points in the U.S. investigation and that's why it could not sign off on them.

But he said the outcome of the inquiry has nothing to do with the quality of relations between Italy and the U.S. Our friendship with the United States, the prime minister said, has overcome more difficult tests.

"Our friendship is sincere, loyal and not one of subordination," Mr. Berlusconi said. "This is also shown by the fact that we did not accept the conclusions of the investigation which we did not agree with."

The prime minister said the fact that U.S. soldiers did not shoot deliberately does not mean there was no blame. He added that Italian magistrates would continue their own investigation.

"We remain committed to do everything possible to uncover the truth behind what went on and the eventual responsibility for the tragic death of a heroic servant or the republic who sacrificed his life carrying out a difficult and dangerous mission," said Silvio Berlusconi.

Prime Minister Berlusconi made clear that despite the incident Italy's troop deployment in Iraq was not in question.

Mr. Berlusconi said: "We have no intention of establishing any connection between the events surrounding the death of our agent and the role of our country in Iraq". He said Italy is there to provide assistance to build a new free and democratic Iraq.

There is therefore no reason, Mr. Berlusconi added, to pull troops out at this time which would be not only irresponsible but incomprehensible. He said the withdrawal of Italian troops would not be unilateral but be agreed with the allies.