RIYADH: Italy’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia believes that “shared commitment to dialogue and mutual understanding” are the cornerstone of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom and Italy stretching back 90 years.
“Since 1932, when official diplomatic relations between Italy and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were first established, the friendly ties between the two countries have developed at a steady pace,” Roberto Cantone told Arab News.
“Today, Italy and Saudi Arabia are firmly engaged in fruitful cooperation across the board. We work side by side in various fields in the political, economic and cultural domains, as well as in all matters pertaining to our shared security, including the issue of energy,” he added.
In 1932, Italy became one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Kingdom. Since then, the two countries have built and strengthened ties in investment, culture, trade and tourism.
Cantone has been Italy’s ambassador to the Kingdom since June 2020 and is witnessing the 90th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“It is a great privilege to be able to represent my country in the Kingdom as we celebrate such an important milestone in the history of our diplomatic relations,” he said.
Cantone said the Italian embassy has organized several initiatives in coordination with Saudi authorities to mark the anniversary.
“The highlight was certainly the 12th Saudi-Italian Joint Commission and the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum, both of which were held in Riyadh last June and provided the chance for top-level discussions between the two governments,” he said.
The 12 sessions of the Saudi-Italian Joint Commission focused on building cooperation in trade, investment, infrastructure, transportation, science and technology, as well as education and agriculture.
“Working together for concrete projects is the best way to consolidate our long-term partnership,” Cantone said.
The joint commission witnessed the signing of agreements between the Saudi Space Commission and the Italian Space Agency to strengthen cooperation in space activities.
An agreement was also signed between the Federation of Saudi Chambers and the General Confederation of Italian Industry to establish a joint Italian-Saudi business council.
In November, the Italian embassy, in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla, organized an event with Slow Food, an Italy-based international association that aims to preserve gastronomic heritage by supporting sustainable food chains and rural community development.
“I hope that our partnership in the next decade can further grow and expand, as well as the people-to-people contacts. I would also like to see additional Italian companies settling in Saudi Arabia and contributing to achieving the objectives of Vision 2030,” he said.
Cantone said that the more Italian companies are able to participate in major Saudi projects and Vision 2030, the stronger bilateral relations will be.
“Italian know-how and technologies, including our creativity, can very much help the implementation of the investments foreseen in a variety of sectors, from infrastructure to mobility, from digital transformation to the energy transition,” he said.
Cantone said that cultural activities led by the embassy have also provided opportunities to showcase the deep connections between Saudi Arabia and Italy.
“The embassy has also edited a book dedicated to the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations. I strongly believe that such work will help lay the foundations for further strengthening of our bilateral ties,” he said.
Asked to choose one word to describe relations between Saudi Arabia and Italy, the ambassador replied: “Dialogue.”
“Our two countries’ commitment to promoting dialogue is an asset for regional stability and integration. Bilaterally, this approach has enabled us to achieve a deep and comprehensive partnership, by focusing on issues of common interest and by addressing issues that may divide us, but in a spirit of friendship and mutual understanding,” he said.
Cantone said that dialogue is a common feature of both countries’ foreign policies and is “deeply embedded in the diplomatic DNA of Italy.”
“Italy has traditionally worked to promote a positive agenda in the broader Mediterranean area, a region of opportunities and ancient history that has also witnessed fragmentation and conflict,” he said.
Cantone underlined where he sees future potential for cooperation between Italy and the Kingdom to grow even stronger.
“Our strong relation touches on multiple fields, but ultimately relies on our political partnership and a substantial level of bilateral trade,” he said.
“While Italian imports from the Kingdom very much depend on oil, I am very pleased that Italian exports to Saudi Arabia are progressively growing also in other sectors and last year reached a considerable amount of EUR3.3 billion ($3.5 billion),” Cantone said.
“I deem we should continue to seize all the opportunities of partnership in sectors where Saudi Arabia is opening up at a steady pace, such as culture, heritage, entertainment, tourism as well as renewable energies. These are sectors where Italy has a clear added value to offer and where there is an important complementarity between our two countries.”
Having lived and worked in both countries, Cantone highlighted the differences and similarities in the culture he witnessed.
“Our two countries have an ancient and rich culture, which has developed throughout the centuries. Our population shares the common history of the broader Mediterranean region. We both attach great importance to, and are very proud of, our respective tradition and heritage,” he said.
“Social and family life have a prominent relevance in our cultures. We both like football and good (Italian) cars. As for the differences, our coffee is definitely stronger.”
Cantone said that since the Italian government took office last October there have been many important meetings, with both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni attending the G20 Summit in Bali.
Senior Saudi officials also took part in the Rome Med-Mediterranean Dialogue in the Italian capital in early December.
“We are currently working for other high-level political contacts and exchange of visits, and I am confident that in the first semester of 2023 we will have a busy bilateral agenda,” he said.
Cantone shared his enthusiasm for celebrating the anniversary of diplomatic relations 10 years from now. “Starting from next year, we begin our joint adventure toward the 100th anniversary in 2032,” he said.