x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Italy to ratify UAE treaty by end of year

Italy will ratify a defence treaty with the UAE before the end of the year, paving the way for increased military co-operation.

Italian Ambassador, Paolo Dionisi, greets guests at Italian National Day, held at the Emirates Palace.
Italian Ambassador, Paolo Dionisi, greets guests at Italian National Day, held at the Emirates Palace.

ABU DHABI // Italy will ratify a mothballed defence treaty with the UAE before the end of the year, paving the way for increased military co-operation, the Italian ambassador said yesterday. Paolo Dionisi described the agreement as a framework for existing military co-operation between the two nations and one that also provided for increased levels of shared information, training and transfer of military technology.

The agreement was drafted in 2003 when Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister of Italy, but went into limbo in 2006 when he suffered a narrow electoral defeat at the hands of Romano Prodi's l'Unione party, whose administration failed to ratify it. "There were technicalities that blocked that agreement," said Mr Dionisi, offering no further details. It is understood, however, that the new centre-left majority in the Italian parliament had reservations about the fact that the UAE's criminal law includes the death penalty. "Some deputies also proposed changes to the deal." In the meantime, some of the agreement's provisions were put into practical effect anyway, and after Mr Berlusconi returned to power last year, the entire treaty was revived. Just under two months ago it was ratified by the Senate, the upper house of Italy's parliament. Now, according to the ambassador, all it requires is the approval of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, which is likely, he said, given that the majorities in both houses are controlled by Mr Berlusconi's ruling coalition. "I hope... it will be approved before the end of the year. I hope it will be October," he said. "Defence agreement means much, it means the level of co-operation between the two countries is very advanced. "We believe that defence co-operation is a pillar of our strategic relations with the UAE." In October, the Speaker of the Federal National Council, Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, raised the issue of the pending treaty during a meeting with the speaker of Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, in Rome. Mr Fini promised to speed up its discussion and approval. The agreement does not require Italy to come to the UAE's defence in case of attack, although this is a provision of treaties signed with France in 1995 and the US in 1994. What it does do, the ambassador explained, "is increase all forms of co-operation and training". The Italian armed forces have trained dozens of UAE military officers over the past two years, but Mr Dionisi said: "It's important to have the paper. We have some things that have already been implemented from that agreement but more can be implemented." Emirati military officers involved in the training programme receive language training in Abu Dhabi for a few months. Then, in Italy, they spend four or five months with Italian naval, air and army units, including special forces. In the last few weeks, they visit Italian defence companies. Mr Dionisi gave the example of a captain in the UAE coastguard who spent three months last year on an Italian coastguard vessel. "He was an officer of the Italian coastguard," he said, adding that such contacts were useful as the two states faced similar problems, including illegal immigration. Also in 2008, the Italians began training UAE air force pilots in aerial acrobatics, both in Italy and the Emirates. "Our acrobatic national team is considered worldwide among the best," the ambassador said. This year has seen a surge in military co-operation, with the Air Force's decision in February to acquire 48 trainer jets and light combat aircraft from Alenia Aermacchi, the Italian aerospace company, in a multibillion-dirham deal. Since 2001 Italy has maintained a base at Al Bateen airport in Abu Dhabi, with nearly 100 personnel operating a fleet of C-130 cargo planes that fly daily supply runs to Afghanistan, where Italy has about 3,000 troops as part of the international coalition. Last week France inaugurated a military base in Abu Dhabi, its first in the Gulf region. The base will include 500 military personnel from the French navy, air force and army. The US also operates naval and airbases in the country. Mr Dionisi said the relationship with the UAE had all the right ingredients. "There are so many common interests and ideas between Italy and the UAE, I think we have all the bases, all the ingredients to look forward," he said. "For us, the UAE is a strategic partner in the region and not only in the region." For that reason, he said, Italy had invited the UAE to take part in this month's ministerial meeting of the Group of Eight industrial nations, which Italy presides over this year. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, is expected to take part in the meeting, which will touch on regional issues including Afghanistan and Pakistan. "This is only to confirm how much we consider the bilateral relations, between us and the UAE, so strategic. "In the last three years, we've seen a complete relaunch of our relationship." The ambassador disclosed that Mr Berlusconi might visit the Emirates before the end of the year. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, are both expected to visit Italy this year. mhabboush@thenational.ae