Rome

Letta confirms NATO commitments, eyes defence savings

Premier to visit Afghanistan August 12

Letta confirms NATO commitments, eyes defence savings

Rome, July 25 - Premier Enrico Letta confirmed Italy's commitment to its operations with NATO on Thursday but said he was looking for European defence savings, after a meeting with the organization's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on Thursday. These commitments include Italy's involvement in the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan until the withdrawal of foreign forces next year. "It's with pleasure that I met NATO's secretary general and I confirmed Italy's commitments to the alliance," Letta told a news conference adding that he will visit Afghanistan on August 12. Letta stressed, however, that ways had to be found to make savings in European defence spending ahead of December's EU summit, which will have defence as one of the top issues on the agenda. "The issue of defence costs is linked to the fact that, at the European level, we have to work to avoid duplications and overlaps to save money and be more efficient in the military structure," Letta said. "It will be important to achieve a significant decision (at December's summit)". Rasmussen has been critical of defence cuts adopted in recent years by NATO member states during the economic crisis and warned there may be consequences. "Italy's commitment to the NATO alliance is even more important at a moment in which all our (member) countries have to make difficult budget choices," Rasmussen told a news conference. "Security has a cost, but insecurity has a cost that we cannot allow". Later on Thursday, Rasmussen told ANSA that he hoped to see defence spending increased when Europe emerges from the current economic crisis. ''Having held the post of prime minister (of Denmark), I can understand how difficult it is from a political point of view, to justify spending cuts in welfare, schooling and the health sector but not on defence,'' Rasmussen said. ''I am, however, appealing to European nations to boost investments in this sector when the economies have recovered". He warned that otherwise Europe risks losing its lead role in the international arena, Rasmussen said. Italian Defence Minister Mario Mauro, meanwhile, said the Italian government is continuing its support of former foreign minister Franco Frattini in his bid to replace Rasmussen at the helm of NATO. The government, currently a left-right coalition led by Premier Enrico Letta, has changed since Frattini, who served under three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi, made his candidacy known. Rasmussen completes his term June next year and talks surrounding his successor officially begin this fall. Analysts say Frattini is among the most credible candidates. Rasmussen said Frattini is a valid candidate, but added that it was premature to raise this issue. "I know Frattini very well, we worked together for many years. He is a very competent politician", Rasmussen told ANSA. "Even so, it is really too soon to talk about my successor. I still have another year ahead of me and I am very concentrated on what needs to be done".

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