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Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently

The decision to freeze arms sales permanently came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi's video appearance with Saudi prince.

Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: AFP

Italy on Friday revoked approval for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the conflict in Yemen, making permanent an 18-month temporary suspension.

“Today I am announcing that the government has revoked the authorisations underway for the export of missiles and aircraft bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

“(This is) an act that we considered due, a clear message of peace coming from our country. For us, respect for human rights is an unbreakable
commitment,” he said.

He did not mention Yemen but had referenced the conflict there when he ordered the initial suspension in July 2019.

According to Italy’s latest figures, dating to 2019, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ranked 10th and 11th in the list of the biggest markets for Italian arms exports.

Exports to Saudi Arabia were worth 105.4 million euros ($128 million), while those to the United Arab Emirates were worth 89.9 million euros.

Italy’s decision came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi’s guest appearance at a high-level event hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Renzi, a longstanding foe of Di Maio, is under the spotlight for pulling his party’s support for the ruling coalition earlier this month and forcing the
resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s prime minister resigned and what happens now?

In Riyadh, he spoke at the Future Investment Initiative – dubbed “Davos in the desert” – in an apparently pre-recorded video with the prince.

Despite longstanding concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Renzi described the prince as his “friend” and said the Gulf oil monarchy “could be the place of a new Renaissance for the future”.

Italian newspaper Domani, which broke the story of Renzi’s Saudi trip, said he receives $80,000 a year for being on the advisory board of the FII.

Renzi said on Friday that this is not the time to question him about his Saudi trip and that he will answer questions Italy’s political crisis is resolved.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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