Wednesday, April 27, 2005
News that U.S. investigators have exonerated the American troops who killed Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari and wounded journalist Giuliana Sgrena comes at the worst possible time for Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi:
Tensions between the United States and Italy surged Tuesday, as Italian politicians and citizens reacted furiously to leaked reports in the Italian news media that a joint investigation into the shooting death of an Italian agent in Baghdad would absolve American soldiers of guilt in the incident.
The United States ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler, met twice with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his top aide at the government's headquarters to try to avert a crisis that could cost the United States one of its staunchest European allies in the Iraq conflict.
Mr. Berlusconi has kept 3,000 Italian troops in Iraq, even though Italy's involvement is wildly unpopular here. The news that the inquiry might absolve the American soldiers of all guilt comes at an extremely vulnerable moment for the beleaguered Mr. Berlusconi, who was forced to resign temporarily last week; he has since formed a new and tenuous coalition government . . . .
In the last two days, the Italian news media has been filled with unattributed reports that the two Italian members of the team have refused to sign the investigation's report, because they disagree with its conclusions. On Tuesday, Ms. Sgrena, who is now recovered, called the investigation's conclusions "a slap" for the Berlusconi government . . . .
As if the rain of political criticism was not enough for Mr. Berlusconi, Italian prosecutors in Milan were once again planning to indict him, a former media magnate, for financial crimes, Reuters reported Tuesday.