ROME (Apr. 22)
Italian authorities have expressed delight that Rome has been chosen as the site of the sixth round of Arab-Israeli peace talks.
No date has been set, but they are expected to be held sometime in July.
The U.S. State Department announced the change of venue Tuesday in Washington where the fifth round is scheduled to open next Monday.
Some here see the choice of Rome as the recognition of Italy’s long-sought role as a leader in Mediterranean affairs and a mediator of regional conflicts.
Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis told reporters here that he had informed U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that “we were ready to host the talks.”
Actually, Rome is a compromise choice. From the outset of their bilateral dialogues with Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Palestinians, the Israelis have been urging a shift to the Middle East, or a country close to the region.
The Arabs were perfectly content to stay in Washington.
Baker asked all of the parties to suggest a site. Rome was chosen because it appeared on everybody’s list.
“We’ve said from the beginning that Rome could be an excellent site because it is midway between the first choices of both sides,” said Nemer Hammad, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative in Italy.
Israel initially oppose Rome because it perceived Italian foreign policy to be tilted toward the Arabs.
“But lately, we have had the feeling that our concerns, specifically our security concerns, have been taken note of in Rome,” Israeli Embassy spokesman Raphael Gamzou told reporters.
De Michaelis said “Italy has developed a constructive policy toward Israel to restore the balance the Israelis seemed to think was lacking.”
At the same time, he noted that Italy has retained close relations with the Arab countries and the Palestinians, and continues “a dialogue that was not interrupted even during the (Persian) Gulf war.”
Italian commentators noted that De Michaelis has good personal relations with Israel’s foreign minister, David Levy, which has contributed to improved relations between the countries. De Michaelis visited Israel last year.
He stressed that Italy has actively supported the Arab-Israeli peace talks from the beginning. “The choice of Rome pleases us because it confirms the value of all the hard work we have done in recent months,” he said.
But he cautioned that “our role should not be overvalued.”