Tony plus Tony (and more still). As reported by Il Foglio, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently quipped that he “totally agree[s] with the two Tonies”. He was referring to Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken – with the latter finally supporting the former’s calls for NATO to focus on its Southern flank as well as Ukraine.
- The Alliance’s foreign ministers convened in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss ongoing matters…
- … and this quip signals that Washington might be coming around to Rome’s way of thinking on the ongoing Tunisian crisis.
What’s going on in Tunisia? The Northern African country is still in the throes of a profound socio-economic crisis that President Kais Saied is struggling to counter. Tunis is awaiting a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. However, the leader’s autocratic tendencies and reluctance to respect IMF red tape are causing some countries to hold out on approval.
- The US belongs to the latter group, as it’s sceptical of handing over the money to a semi-regime that could further debilitate the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring as a democracy.
- On Thursday, President Saied rejected the long-awaited loan agreement and slammed its conditions as foreign “diktats” that “cause only more impoverishment […] The alternative is that we must rely on ourselves.”
- Meanwhile, Italy has been advocating to work towards the funds’ release to stabilise the country and prevent foreign powers from taking advantage of Tunisia’s situation – and thus indirectly hit out at NATO countries with hybrid war tactics, which include migration, as the Meloni government has been warning about.
- Meanwhile, Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov has gotten in touch with his Tunisian counterpart.
Italy’s line. As FM Tajani recalled on Monday, Rome is “in constant contact” with Tunis and announced a $100 million aid package, half of which is earmarked for SMEs. Italy believes the best course of action is to release part of the funds – so as to addres the more urgent matters – and link the rest of the money to reforms.
- This, said Mr Tajani, “can be a way of demonstrating the goodwill of Tunisia’s friendly countries and the IMF” while maintaining the focus on reforms.
A growing consensus? NATO allies now seem more responsive to the Italian solution: FM Tajani himself said he believes “we are moving in the right direction […] It seems to me that there is a more willing attitude on the part of the US, France,” and after EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni’s visit to Tunis, “also on the part of the EU.”
- In the coming weeks, the Belgian and Portuguese FMs will also travel to Tunis.
- And in the meanwhile, beyond Mr Blinken’s remarks, the American ambassador to Tunisia, Joey Hood, has met with his Italian counterpart Fabrizio Saggio twice in the past few days.
- That happened in the wake of the March 28 phone call between Messrs Tajani and Blinken, followed by contacts between American and Italian intelligence, reports Il Foglio, noting that dialogues centred on the reasons of geopolitics prevailing over those of bureaucracy.