ABU DHABI //One year on from the Arab Spring, security in the Middle East is at the top of Italy's foreign policy agenda.
Maurizio Massari, Italy's special envoy to the Middle East, began his six-day tour of the region in the capital yesterday, where he met with Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, to exchange political and security proposals.
"Italy would like to upgrade its political and security relations in the region, starting with the Emirates," Mr Massari said.
Mr Massari was appointed to the Middle East post by the Italian foreign minister, Giulio Terzi, on January 20.
"The Middle East is key to the Italian foreign ministry and we have come to the region to express our aim to increase political and security relations," he said yesterday. "We will present concrete proposals to go forward within the next few weeks."
Last night, Mr Massari travelled on to Riyadh for meetings with Saudi officials before stops in Qatar and Bahrain.
Topping his agenda are discussions concerning Iran, Syria and Libya, he said.
"We share the same security concerns with the GCC and the UAE," Mr Massari said. Terrorism, piracy and international organised crime are among these shared concerns, he said.
Another matter of major concern for both the Italian and UAE governments is Libyan border security, he said.
He said the UAE and Italy would work together to help shore up Libya's southern border, which neighbours Algeria, Chad, Niger, Egypt and Sudan.
"Mali's current crisis aggravates the situation and during the spring season a flow of arms, people and drugs come through.
"This is a matter of national security for us in Italy and we should stop it and help Libya address it," he said.
"What can be done is a partnership to help this problem - assistance without interference.
"Expertise, intelligence and training is what can be offered by the UAE," he said.
Discussions on security issues, according to Mr Massari, also covered nuclear security.
"Nuclear security is not possible without the involvement of the GCC," he said. "We share the same issues and vision with the GCC for the region to be a nuclear-free zone.
"There is [already] a dialogue between us and the UAE but there is space to expand on the security dimensions of this dialogue and there is an interest from the UAE to expand it with the EU and EU countries," said Mr Massari.
Trade between the UAE and Italy was worth more than Dh24 billion last year, with more than Dh22 billion worth of Italian exports going to the UAE market, according to Christian Lungarotti, deputy head of the Italian mission in the UAE.
The UAE and Italy share a strong relationship in arms trade, said Mr Massari. In 2009, the UAE Navy ordered a Dh430 million anti-submarine frigate from Italy.
"Recently our defence minister, Giampaolo Di Paola, has been on a visit to the UAE and placed agreements and programmes with the UAE Government," he said.
Mr Massari described his mandate as threefold: "To promote relations with the new political formations and civil societies of the Arab Spring countries; to contribute to the formulation of a national strategy for the Mediterranean; and to explore proposals and initiatives concerning the consolidation of the regional framework of the greater Mediterranean region."
Envoy officials also said a high-level Italian political visit to the UAE was being set up by the end of the year.
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