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Rome works with Riyadh amid wider diplomatic push

The Italian Defence Minister travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with his counterpart to discuss stability in the Middle East. It’s part of Italy’s all-of-government approach to promote dialogue and peace in the conflicted region

The Rome-Riyadh dialogue. On Tuesday, Italy’s Defence Minister Guido Crosetto travelled to the Saudi Arabian capital. There he met with his local homologue, Prince Khalid Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz, and discussed stability in the Middle East – as the conflict between Israel and Hamas risks causing “serious repercussions on the stability of the region” and reverberating across the Mediterranean, as the Italian official noted.

  • That’s why the Italian government and defence forces are in the area, he added: to promote dialogue and peace. “In this perspective, Saudi Arabia plays a strategic role in [stabilising] the entire area.”

Wide-ranging repercussions. The two defence ministers touched on topical issues, highlighting their shared commitment to strengthening dialogue and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Italy, reads an official note. They focused on the stability and security of the enlarged Mediterranean and the Sahelian areas – priorities for Rome.

  • “Through a highly inclusive and representative political dialogue, Italy will continue to work to prevent further deterioration of the current situation, especially in the Middle East,” explained the Italian minister, noting that the area’s dynamics are “reflected on the European continent.”
  • Over the past days, members of the Italian government have been in contact with local authorities, including Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Morocco.

Longer-term: stability through growth. Institutional weakness, regional demographics and “the predatory posture of some international actors” compound the area’s fragility, he remarked. “This is why the Italian government is promoting a renewed ‘Mattei Plan’ that will allow the countries in the region to exploit the natural wealth they have in order to increase the welfare of their population and strengthen their economies.”

  • The presentation of the plan, along with the Italy-Africa summit, has been postponed to early 2024 due to the Israeli crisis.

The Italy-Saudi Arabia axis. Minister Crosetto’s visit follows that of Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who had travelled to Riyadh in early October (just a few days before Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians) to discuss shared dossiers and push forth the growing political and economic ties – which have been growing across the board and especially in the defence sector after Rome lifted its ban on weapons sales to Riyadh this past May.

  • While in Saudi Arabia, the defence minister “made himself available to explore new areas of cooperation to increase the interoperability of the Armed Forces of the two countries for the benefit of the security and stability of the Mediterranean area and the Arabian Gulf.”
    • Currently, several Saudi officers are already carrying out training periods in Italy, at the Military Academies, the Air Force flight schools and the Defence High Studies Centre.
  • Riyadh is also interested in joining the Global Combat Air Programme, a project to develop the sixth-generation fighter jet brought forth by Rome, London and Tokyo. The United Kingdom is open to Saudi Arabia’s entrance, while Japan is cooler on the prospect.
    • The defence ministers from the three partnering countries are expected to meet in Rome in the coming weeks to discuss the GCAP, including the project’s possible enlargement to other countries.

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