Skip to main content



ultima rivista formiche
ultima rivista airpress

From 5G to Iran, all the dossiers awaiting Pompeo in Rome

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be returning to Italy in a week’s time to touch base on a series of dossiers dear to Washington.

On September 29th the diplomat will be meeting with members of the Vatican to discuss religious freedoms and the Holy See’s opening to China. The day after he is due for talks with members of the Italian government; namely, prime minister Giuseppe Conte and foreign minister Luigi di Maio.

As it happens, Italy nowadays has its hands in several geopolitical pies of crucial importance, ranging from relations with China, to matters in the Mediterranean, through to the Middle East.



The most pressing matter at hand will be Italy’s relation with China. Mr Pompeo will be coming in hot on the tail of Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister who travelled to Rome a month ago, and Chinese president Xi Jinping, fresh from a virtual meeting with the highest-level diplomats of the EU.

Beijing has been pressing individual European nations to keep widening their commercial and political operations even as most of the West, spearheaded by the US, is increasingly limiting China’s reach over its track record on human rights and unfair commercial practices.

Mr Pompeo will most likely seek to counter the Dragon’s influence in Italy, a country that has generally enjoyed warmer relations with China than most among the West. In 2019, Italy signed a memorandum to enter China’s massive investments and infrastructural project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the first member of the G7 to ever do so.

Times have changed since then, as the world grows more polarised in response to the brewing US-China Cold War-like confrontation. Matters such as technological development, internet and connectivity are one of the main fronts of this confrontation, and the lines between geopolitics and commerce start to blur.

For instance, Mr Di Maio himself was one of the main actors behind Italy’s adherence to the BRI. That has changed: last month, when he met with Mr Yi, he stressed that Italy’s fealty towards its allies comes before any commercial partner.

This summer, Italy adopted measures that seriously impair the ability of Chinese tech companies (such as Huawei) to enter the Italian market and build potentially unsecure equipment, while building a cybersecurity “digital perimeter”.

As he had done before, Mr Pompeo will prompt Rome to kick that up a notch through Italy’s adherence to his Clean Networks initiative, which essentially altogether bans Chinese tech from communication infrastructure.

The matter is sensitive as only a week ago news broke about a database, leaked from a Chinese data company, that included detailed profiles of thousands of Italian persons of interest.

Another manifestation of the BRI has been occurring through Beijing’s investments in strategically significant ports, such as that of Taranto, home of key NATO and EU naval forces. That matter is due for evaluation on behalf of the parliamentary security commission (COPASIR) next Tuesday.



The poisoning of Russian opposer Alexei Navalny is increasingly setting the international agenda on Russia. Mr Pompeo himself has called for an investigation on the matter and co-signed a letter condemning it together with foreign minister from the G7, despite US president Donald Trump’s reluctance to assign blame.

Italy, on the other hand, was responsible for a spectacular debacle earlier this month, when the PM’s press office released a statement implying that Mr Putin had assured Mr Conte that he would start an investigation in the wake of the poisoning – something the Kremlin immediately contradicted, standing by its claim that the legal basis for an investigation are missing.

Rome was among the last to condemn Russia over the poisoning, and wasn’t exactly bullish on the Belarusian crisis, too. To worsen things, the League – probably Italy’s most popular party – voted against investigating Russia over the Navalny matter and abstained from a resolution imposing sanctions against the disputed Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. This happened in the European parliament, where both resolutions passed.

The shared reluctance of president Trump and some Italian politicians to go against Russia (and its president Vladimir Putin in particular) is not likely to curb Mr Pompeo’s request to increase pressure on it.



The US administration is in the process of cornering Iran on the world stage through means such as the Abraham Accords and sanctions. Most recently, Washington unilaterally imposed sanctions on Tehran during Tuesday’s UN General Assembly while failing to rile up allied support for an extension of the embargo.

Italy enjoys a privileged diplomatic relationship with Iran, although that might be souring soon. The US (and most likely Mr Pompeo) are demanding a field choice on the matter and have imposed secondary sanctions on those doing business with Tehran. Tellingly, the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif cancelled his visit to Rome in early September at the last minute.


The Mediterranean

Given the ongoing instabilities in the Mediterranean – chief among which are the Libyan and Lebanese crises and the disputes surrounding Turkey – the US has been considering whether to move its Africa Command (AFRICOM) from Stuttgart, Germany to Naples, Italy.

The geographical position would be immensely advantageous, and Italy’s role as a stabilising force in the Mediterranean could also prove a valuable asset. The US is wary of the presence of Russian troops in Libya and Turkey’s leading role there, although Washington has been somewhat removed from that particular conflict.

That is likely to be discussed next week, as an increased US (and NATO) presence in Italy could serve as a trampoline to project US interests in the Mediterranean basin.

Italy has been acting as a pacifier between Turkey and Greece, and Turkey and France, during their summer disputes over natural resources and national borders. The US also intend to keep Ankara calm as it’s the Eastern flank of NATO and strategically positioned with respect to the Middle East.

The diplomacy between Rome and Ankara are still functioning, as demonstrated by the recent calls between Mr Di Maio and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as well as between Mr Conte and Turkeys’ president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

However, the same cannot be said about the relations between the US and Turkey, as the two countries quarrelled over Ankara’s cosiness with versions of political Islamism that do not sit well with Washington. Which is why Mr Pompeo might be tempted to engage in lateral diplomacy through the peninsula, among other means.

The American politician is also aware of the strong Italian contingent in Lebanon through the UN’s mission UNIFIL. Lebanon, still reeling from the August explosion in Beirut and undergoing a social, political and economic crisis, is fertile ground for extremist movements averse to the US (and its neighbouring ally Israel).

The US might be especially wary of Hezbollah, which it deems a terrorist organisation, because of its strong ties with Iran.

Recently, an American counterterrorism officer warned Rome that Hezbollah has been storing ammonium nitrate (the fuel of the Beirut explosion) in Italy. Similar claims have led the UK and Germany to find and neutralise deposits of the substance.

The US is pressuring European countries to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation in its entirety instead of its military section only. Apart from the UK and Germany, most EU nations resist this, perhaps with their Iranian relations in mind. It’s fair to assume that Mr Pompeo will be discussing the matter with the Italian diplomats.


Iscriviti alla newsletter