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Italy suspends friendship treaty with Libya

By Tom Watkins, CNN
  • "The friendship treaty is null and void," says Italian foreign affairs ministry spokesman
  • Several NATO and U.S. military bases are located in Italy
  • Amati says there has been no discussion on launching attack on Libya from Italian soil

(CNN) -- Italy has suspended a treaty it signed three years ago with Libya that includes a nonaggression clause, a spokesman for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

"The friendship treaty is null and void," said Aldo Amati, deputy press secretary for the ministry, in a telephone interview. Under the 2008 treaty between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Italy paid Libya $5 billion to compensate Libya for the colonial rule.

"We no longer consider the Gadhafi government as our interlocutor, so we don't think it's applicable right now."

But that doesn't necessarily open the possibility that U.S. or NATO forces could launch military operations in the north African country from Italian soil, said Amati. "There's no connection," he said. "There's no link between the two things."

In fact, he said, Italian authorities have not engaged in discussions with other countries about using Italian soil to conduct military operations such as enforcing a no-fly zone or launching any possible attack.

Several NATO and U.S. bases are located in Italy, including the U.S. Sixth Fleet, which is based near Naples.

But Kurt Volker, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO who is now a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the suspension of the pact does not suffice for military actions to be launched from Italy.

The question is, from the perspective of the Italian government, "if you're really trying to think about military action, do you have some kind of authorization to do so?" he said in a telephone interview. "You would need a U.N. mandate and possibly a NATO declaration or both, and there isn't anything like that on the table at the moment."

But others in the international community may soon have to decide whether to intervene militarily, he said. "At some point we have to face the question of, 'Are we willing to help them or not,'" he said. For Volker, the question is an easy one to answer. "If I were in government, I would be strongly recommending, 'Absolutely, Yes! Not a moment's hesitation," he said.

The situation in Libya differs from that of Egypt, where the United States was trying to balance various interests, he said. "We have no countervailing interests in Libya," he said. "The guy has been a terrible dictator. He was a terror plotter. He blew up the plane in Lockerbie. So we have no reason not to be helping the people of Libya get rid of this tyrant."

Discussions are under way about getting aid to those in need in Libya, Amati said. At a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini "very much favored a United Nations international investigation," Amati said. "We would like to reach out to the Libyan people, so we're ready to create humanitarian corridors, possibly under a U.N. hat."

Amati said Italian officials would prefer to funnel any humanitarian assistance through another organization, such as the African Union or the Arab League. That's because Libya is a former colony. "Due to our past relationship, it would be, let's say, inconvenient, you know," Amati said.

Italy decided over the weekend to stop sending money to what remains of the Libyan government, and has halted the flow of oil and gas through a pipeline that stretches from Libya to Ragusa in Sicily, he said.