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Government begins review of ties with Italy

New Delhi, March 14, 2013 DHNS
This Feb. 23, 2013 photo made available Wednesday, March 13, 2013 shows Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre, center left, followed by Salvatore Girone, second from right, upon their arrival from India at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, in Fiumicino. India's prime minister demanded Wednesday that Italy return two marines accused of killing a pair of fishermen last year or face unspecified consequences, deepening a diplomatic dispute between the two countries. The Indian government allowed the marines to return home in February to vote in national elections and to celebrate Easter with a promise from the Italian ambassador that they would return to stand trial. Italy announced Monday it would not send them back. AP Photo

With the Supreme Court restraining Rome’s envoy to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, from leaving the country, the government on Thursday started a comprehensive review of India’s relations with Italy, sending out signals that the diplomatic ties might be scaled down if the two Italian marines do not return to stand trial in India.

New Delhi also launched a diplomatic campaign to denounce the Italian government’s refusal to send back the marines to face legal proceedings for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala on February 19, 2012. Top diplomats of the Ministry of External Affairs briefed the European Union’s envoy to India, Joao Cravinho, and conveyed to him New Delhi’s displeasure over the Italian government’s decision to backtrack from its own commitment to the Supreme Court to ensure the marines’ return.

New Delhi is also unlikely to send its new ambassador to Italy, Basant K Gupta, to Rome immediately. Gupta was appointed as India’s envoy to Italy, after his predecessor Debabrata Saha retired in December. He was expected to take up his new assignment later this month.

“We will comply with the Supreme Court order on the issue related to the Italian marines. It is in the best interest of our country and in the best interest of our judicial system,” said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

Khurshid, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, later told journalists that the government would do everything to protect the “dignity and primacy” of India after Italy reneged on its assurance given to the Supreme Court.

“As part of our ongoing efforts following what the prime minister has said in Parliament yesterday, we have initiated a study of our interaction with Italy. At the end of the internal process, we will take further action that is appropriate, taking into account all aspects of our relationship,” Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists on Thursday. He said that the “entire expanse” of India’s bilateral ties with Italy was being reviewed.

Speaking in both Houses of Parliament, Singh on Wednesday warned of “consequences” in New Delhi’s ties with Rome, if the marines – Latore Massimilano and Salvadore Girone – do not return to India at the end of the four-week leave the Supreme Court had granted them to go home for casting votes in the recent parliamentary elections in Italy.

Italy, however, remained firm on its stand that the marines would not return to India since the two countries have a dispute over interpretation of the United Nations Convention on Law of Sea. “Our very solid position, of which we are fully convinced and that is shared by many of our major international community partners, is that we are acting in full compliance with international legal standards and customary international laws and treaties”, Foreign Minister of Italy, Giulio Terzi, told journalists in Jerusalem.

Rome’s refusal to budge from its stand prompted the government to move the Supreme Court on Thursday. The apex court restrained Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving India without its permission and issued notices to him as well as the two marines to file responses by Monday.

The Supreme Court had on February 22 last issued an order permitting the two marines to go to Italy.


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