Napolitano Backs New Security Pact

APNapolitano and Medvedev shaking hands during the official welcome ceremony at the Kremlin on Wednesday.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday praised Russian proposals for new broad security framework for Europe, saying he would promote the idea within the European Union, in the warmest response so far from a Western politician to the Kremlin's overtures.

Russia's cooperation within the Group of Eight major economies and investment opportunities were also high on the agenda as Napolitano met with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for talks Wednesday.

"I personally listened to the ideas regarding a new architecture for Euro-Atlantic security put forward by the president with great interest," Napolitano told reporters after the talks. "Italy's position will be one of special attention to this issue and openess to deeper discussions of the proposal within the European Union."

Medvedev has called for a new European security pact that would also include countries like the United States and Canada, saying at an EU-Russia summit last month in Khanty-Mansiisk that existing security blocks like NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were imperfect because they didn't account for the interests of all European countries. Medvedev also brought the issue up with European leaders at the G8 summit on the Japanese island of Hokkaido earlier this month but has received a lukewarm response.

Meeting with Napolitano later in the day, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia was pleased with the support from Italy, a NATO member.

"We've always counted on and have not been mistaken in relying on your country's support in our dialogue with Europe, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," Putin said, in comments posted on the government's web site.

Putin added that Russia has watched countries like Italy closely in developing its political system.

"For us, it is by no means uninteresting and unimportant to look at similar processes in other countries, including one of Europe's leading countries --Italy," Putin said.

While the president is the head of state in Italy, the position is largely ceremonial, with the majority of power lying with the prime minister.

Putin's comments were particularly interesting in light of an address by Medvedev to a gathering of Russian ambassadors on Tuesday, in which the president outlined a foreign policy strategy granting Putin unprecedented authority for a prime minister in implementing foreign policy.

Medvedev, who called Napolitano, 83, "one of Europe's most authoritative politicians," said Italy's chairmanship of the G8 next year put added emphasis on the bilateral ties.

The Kremlin could be looking for support following increased claims by some Western officials that Russia doesn't belong in the G8, after allegations that it backtracked on sanctions against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Moscow vetoed a UN Security Council resolution Friday calling for an arms embargo and financial and travel restrictions on Mugabe after charges he was responsible for the killing of dozens of opposition supporters in a campaign of intimidation during this year's presidential elections.

While Russia backed a G8 summit statement in Japan calling for "financial and other measures" against Mugabe's administration, Russian officials said they never backed sanctions.