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.


President Donald Trump officially recognizes Israeli sovereignty of Golan Heights

Updated 2 min 51 sec ago
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President Donald Trump officially recognizes Israeli sovereignty of Golan Heights

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump officially recognized Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights in Washington D.C. on Monday.

The document reverses more than a half-century of US policy as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House.

Trump had previewed the move in a tweet last week, in which he said the US would take the step after 52 years of Israeli occupation of the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.

Israel captured the region from Syria in 1967 but its sovereignty over the territory is not recognized by the international community.

Last Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council expressed regret at Donald Trump's plan to recognise Israel's sovereignty over the territory.

Trump's statement "will not change the reality that (...) the Arab Golan Heights is Syrian land occupied by Israel by military force in 1967," said Abdul Latif Al Zayani, the GCC secretary general.

(With Agencies)