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Italy weighs into spat over US Haiti effort

January 25, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: January 25 2010

Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, on Monday sought to contain the diplomatic fallout from harsh criticism of the US relief effort in Haiti made by Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s civil protection agency.

Mr Bertolaso, who is close to Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, slammed the US response on Sunday night, telling Italian television that the US “confuses military intervention with emergency aid” and had failed to co-ordinate with humanitarian agencies in the quake-devastated country.

“We are missing a leader, a co-ordination capacity that goes beyond military discipline,” said Mr Bertolaso, who arrived in Haiti last Friday.

“It’s a truly powerful show of force, but it’s completely out of touch with reality,” he said of the US military. Speaking generally, he also criticised what he called a “vanity parade” of people trying to demonstrate the importance of their own countries’ relief efforts.

But Mr Frattini, speaking in Washington ahead of a meeting with Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, told reporters that the Italian government “dissociated itself” from Mr Bertolaso’s “head-on” confrontation with the US authorities and relief organisations. Mrs Clinton played down Mr Bertolaso’s comments, referring to them as the sort of polemics you get on Monday after a match.

The US has sent 13,000 troops to Haiti following the January 12 quake, which is believed to have killed up to 200,000 people and left more than 1.5m homeless. The US and other donor countries are gathering in Montreal on Monday for a conference on Haiti’s reconstruction

Mr Frattini, for whom the relationship with the US is the key pillar of Italian foreign policy, said a crisis of such complexity required US leadership together with the most effective co-ordination by the United Nations of the international relief effort.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper, Mr Frattini said that in the first days of the disaster there had been an inadequate level of co-ordination but Italy had no intention of criticising the “impressive” efforts of the US.

Mr Bertolaso led the response to the quake last April that ruined the medieval city of L’Aquila, killing almost 300 people. Barack Obama, US president, promised aid for the region when he visited during the G8 summit which Italy hosted in a military barracks on the edge of L’Aquila last July.

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