French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, right, meets France's Ambassador Christian Masset, in Rome, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP/Italian Presidency)
Updated 15 February 2019
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French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

  • Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government
  • The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.

PARIS: France’s ambassador to Italy returned to Rome on Friday, eight days after his recall by President Emmanuel Macron, as the European neighbors defused their worst diplomatic crisis since World War Two.
A senior French diplomat described the recall as “electro-shock therapy” necessary to end to “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders against France.
Some commentators saw the recall as over-reaction, but French officials said it had persuaded Italian politicians to reaffirm publicly their friendship with Paris and halt their verbal onslaught — at least for now.
“We blew the whistle loud enough to make everybody stop,” the diplomat said.
The ambassador was received on his return by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said a source at Macron’s office. He also delivered a letter from Macron inviting Mattarella to France for a state visit in the coming months.
Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government, mostly over migration.
The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.
Salvini initially wanted to meet Macron directly but later wrote what French diplomats described as a “polite” letter to his counterpart, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, inviting him to Italy, French officials said.
Italy’s president also spoke with Macron by telephone “and they expressed the extent to which (their) ... friendship ... was important and how the two countries needed one another,” French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told private radio station RTL.
But French diplomats do not rule out tensions resurfacing ahead of European elections in May, with Macron and Salvini framing the campaign as a clash between pro-European “progressives” and Euroskeptic nationalists.
Migration policy and French initiatives to bring peace to Libya, a former Italian colony, without consulting Rome have both been sources of tension in recent months.
A split in the Italian coalition government over the fate of an under-construction Alpine rail tunnel linking France and Italy, could also test relations going forward.
There was no immediate comment on the French ambassador’s return from the Italian government.


Pakistan wants peace with India, but conducts missile test

Updated 1 min 18 sec ago
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Pakistan wants peace with India, but conducts missile test

  • Pakistan announced that it has conducted a training launch of a Shaheen II, surface-to-surface ballistic missile
  • ‘We never speak bitterly, we want to live like good neighbors and settle our outstanding issues through talks’
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has signaled a willingness to open peace talks with India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears set to return to power in New Delhi after an election fought in the shadow of renewed confrontation between the nuclear-armed enemies.
But in a possible warning to India, Pakistan also announced that it has conducted a training launch of a Shaheen II, surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which it said is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 1,500 miles.
“Shaheen II is a highly capable missile which fully meets Pakistan’s strategic needs toward maintenance of deterrence stability in the region,” Pakistan’s military said in a statement that made no direct mention of its neighbor.
On Wednesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi spoke briefly with his Indian counterpart at the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
“We never speak bitterly, we want to live like good neighbors and settle our outstanding issues through talks,” he said following the meeting.
The remark follows months of tension between the long-time rivals, which came close to war in February over the disputed region of Kashmir, which both sides have claimed since independence from Britain in 1947.
Following a suicide attack in Kashmir that killed 40 members of an Indian paramilitary police force in February, Indian jets launched a raid inside Pakistan, striking what New Delhi said was a training camp of Jaish-e Mohammed, the radical group that claimed the Kashmir attack.
In response, Pakistan conducted a retaliatory strike of its own and jets from the two countries fought a dogfight in the skies over Kashmir during which an Indian pilot was shot down and captured.
Amid international pressure to end the conflict, Pakistan returned the pilot and there were no further strikes but tensions remained high, with regular exchanges of artillery fire from both sides in Kashmir.
Pakistan has also kept part of its airspace closed to international air traffic, disrupting flights to India and other parts of the region.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly offered to start talks with India to resolve the Kashmir issue, and officials have said that they hoped the process could start once the election is concluded.
Khan himself said last month he believed there was more prospect of peace talks with Indian if Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the election.