Italian Prime Minister optimistic on Lebanon peacekeeping, realistic on energy prices
Rome is determined to contribute to a possible peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told a Monday news conference in St. Petersburg after the G8 summit.
"[British prime minister] Blair, [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan and myself have been in intensive discussions on the possibility of an international operation in the south of Lebanon. Italy reaffirms its readiness to make an essential contribution to the implementation of this idea when the final decision is made," Prodi said.
He also highlighted Italy's recognition of the need to have the abducted Israeli soldiers freed and urged both sides in the conflict to stop the violence. Relevant Italian ministries have already been briefed on the need for immediate action if a decision on the peacekeeping operation is made, the prime minister added.
Peacekeeping intervention in the south of Lebanon will be possible only after "the broadest consensus at the UN Security Council is reached," Prodi said. Estimating the appropriate strength of the peacekeeping force at 10,000, he said he "told Kofi Annan there were about 2,000 peacekeepers there already, so the additional force should be no more than 8,000 troops." Italy will use these figures as a baseline in calculating its own contribution, he added.
"Of course they do not only need observers there because observers are already in place, and if their presence were enough, what happened there would not have happened," he said.
The G8 recognized Israel's right to self-defense but noted that self-defense "must be proportionate."
Prodi said Israeli and Lebanese troops should be part of any multinational peacekeeping force operating there and vowed to discuss this with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, later on Monday.
"I will be talking to him tonight, and maybe he will be the first to make such a proposal," Prodi said, "However, we need to think about Lebanon as well as about Israel."
Touching upon energy prices, Prodi said the G8 leaders had agreed that the prices would remain high and warned they would be volatile enough to be a source of concern.
"The concern about prices is not over," the Italian prime minister said about the recent debate. "There is a common understanding that the days of low and mid-range prices are gone. The G8 believes that the prices will remain high."