JERUSALEM (EJP)---Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti reaffirmed Thursday his country’s commitment to the security of Israel, after meeting with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
"I am delighted to be here for the second time in six months and say how great our friendship is ," said Monti who is on a 24-hour visit to Israel.
"In the sensitive area of regional relations, we believe that security in Europe is linked to that of Israel," he said.
"We reject absolutely the threats to regional stability and Holocaust denial. Any threat against Israel is unacceptable," he added, referring to Iran and its controversial nuclear program.
Monti said stepped up European sanctions against Iran are proving effective.
The sanctions were "inflicting the pain" on Iran, he said, stressing that they were being rigorously applied and enforced.
Last week the European Union endorsed new expanded sanctions against Iran to include financial, trade, energy and transport sectors.
It imposed asset freezes and trade restrictions on additional companies, notably those in the oil and gas industry.
"We discussed the economic and security challenges and the importance of our stated position that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons and to this end the sanctions and international pressure must be applied," Netanyahu said during a joint press conference.
Monti's visit was also the occasion of the signing of cooperation agreements between the two countries, particularly in the fields of high technology, culture, science and education.
Monti heads a delegation of six Italian ministers, including representatives from its foreign affairs, defence, justice, education and transport ministries.
He is considered to have maintained Italy’s position as a staunch supporter of Israel within the European Union, having reportedly stepped in to moderate the tone of the EU foreign affairs Council’s controversial statement on Israel’s contentious settlement policy, apparently insisting on asserting more favourable references to Palestinian incitement and Israel’s security needs, in the interests of balance.
On an official visit to Italy in July, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman paid tribute to the close ties of friendship between Italy and Israel, characterised by extensive Italian aid to Israel during the Carmel fire of 2011, which Israel reciprocated following the last major earthquakes in Italy in 2008.
Italy has long been regarded as one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the EU. At a meeting in Rome in May, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti reaffirmed his country’s commitment to Israel, saying:
“Italy will always be committed to support Israel security and the security and freedom of the Jewish people. We feel a political and moral responsibility.”
He continued to echo the recent comments of several European Jewish leaders, when he equated anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism:
“When anti-Semitism becomes the flag post of those who call for the destruction of Israel with hatred and arrogance, our response needs to be firm,” Monti, a former EU Commissioner, said.
Speaking of his thoughts on the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Italian Prime Minister said Thursday that his country supports a two-state solution. "With Israel, we believe in the need for a definitive solution to the conflict, based on two states and two peoples who live close to each other in security, peace and trust. »