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Ambassador sees U.S., Italy sharing common interests

Jeremy Heiman

Among the many international visitors that relaxed and celebrated in Aspen during the Fourth of July weekend was Ferdinando Salleo, the Italian ambassador to the United States.

A member of the board of Aspen Italia, the Aspen Institute’s presence in Italy, Salleo attended events in Aspen that were part of an energy seminar at the institute. But he said his visit here was primarily a social one.

Salleo, who said he’d heard much about Aspen but had never been here before, accepted the invitation of his friend William Albert Nitze, who directs the international office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has a home in Aspen. Nitze is a nephew of Elizabeth Paepcke.

The ambassador, who returned to Washington, D.C., this morning, said he enjoys the mountain climate. While Aspen’s latitude is about equal to that of the southern part of Italy’s boot, Aspen’s terrain and vegetation are much like that of certain areas of northern Italy, especially the area near Mont Blanc on the French border.

Two Aspen Music Festival concerts were also on Salleo’s agenda for the visit. He especially enjoyed the Shostakovich string quartets played by the Emerson Quartet last Tuesday. “The Shostakovich was perfection,” he said.

Selleo has a reason for his love for Russian music. He was the Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union and later Russia from 1989 to 1993, giving him the opportunity to watch the break up of the Soviet Union. He described his vantage point as “a front row seat at the opera.”

Another time Salleo had a front row seat on history was during a stint as Italy’s First Counselor in Washington, D.C., from 1972 through 1974. He witnessed the Viet Nam War protests at their zenith and the beginnings of the Watergate scandal.

The U.S. and Italy have many common interests and joint endeavors in the areas of security, trade and finance. He said he’s working with U.S. officials on a joint effort to combat organized crime, and the two countries are now crafting joint policy on international trafficking in women and children.

A great deal of trade occurs between the two countries, he said. Italy currently has an annual trade surplus of $12 billion in the partnership. Among the things Italy sells to U.S. customers are printing equipment, jewelry, fashion goods and airplane parts.

Ambassador Salleo said he doesn’t understand the court-martial acquittal of the American crew of the Prowler jet that clipped a gondola cable in the ski resort of Cavalese, dropping 20 international visitors to their deaths.

“This has created popular emotion in Italy,” the ambassador said. But he praised the restraint of Italian people. Although most of the NATO planes involved in bombing Serbia during the Kosovo campaign flew out of the American air base at Aviano, the home base of the Prowler crew, no civilian protests or other such incidents hobbled the effort.

Salleo said some good has come out of the gondola accident, in that regulations on military flights were reviewed and tighter restrictions resulted. Mountainous areas are no longer to be used for training flights, he said, and 2,000 feet, rather than 300, is now the minimum altitude for military flights.

Italy and the U.S. are on the same page in their policy toward the resolution of the crisis in Kosovo, Salleo said. “The last thing we want to do is see taxpayers’ money go to Milosevic,” Salleo said. “But we also don’t want to see people starve.” He is hopeful that Milosevic won’t remain in power.

“My personal perception is a year from now, we won’t have Milosevic any more,” the ambassador said.


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