U.S., Italy to Discuss CIA Kidnapping Case
Friday July 1, 2005 3:31 PM
ROME (AP) - Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday the U.S. ambassador expressed Washington's ``full and total'' respect for Italian sovereignty at a meeting about the kidnapping of a radical Egyptian cleric that has resulted in an arrest warrant for 13 purported CIA operatives.
Ambassador Mel Sembler spent about an hour in Berlusconi's office after having been summoned there a day earlier. Afterward, Berlusconi issued a statement saying he had expressed the ``indispensable need'' for the United States to ``fully respect Italian sovereignty.''
``Ambassador Sembler, on behalf of his government, repeated that this respect is full and total and will not diminish in the future,'' the statement said. ``Because of this base of reciprocal respect, it was underlined the base of the profound, close and enduring alliance between the United States and Italy.''
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy.
On Thursday, Cabinet minister Carlo Giovanardi denied in parliament that Italian officials had any prior knowledge of the Feb. 17, 2003, kidnapping of the cleric in Milan. The Italian arrest warrant for the 13 CIA operatives says the cleric was sent to Egypt and tortured.
The Egyptian purportedly was seized as part of a CIA's practice known as ``rendition,'' in which suspected terrorists are transferred without court approval to third countries, where they face interrogation and possible torture.
The incident has strained relations between the two allies, already tested by the shooting death of an Italian agent by U.S. troops in Baghdad in March.
Opposition politicians had demanded that Italy say whether authorities knew of plans to kidnap Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar.
Giovanardi said the reported operation was never ``brought to the attention of the government of the republic or national institutions,'' an apparent reference to Italy's intelligence agencies.
Therefore, he said, ``it is not even possible'' that Italy ever authorized such an operation.
Prosecutors have said they are preparing extradition requests for the 13 CIA operatives and have asked Interpol help in tracing the suspects, all identified as U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the CIA in Washington have refused to comment on the case.