Reviving bilateral ties, India and Italy on Monday agreed to coordinate efforts at the multilateral level to counter global terrorism.
Describing India as an “Asian superpower”, visiting Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Italy was in favour of a EU-India free trade agreement. He inked six agreements with India, covering energy cooperation, diplomatic training and railways.
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Gentiloni said Italy was keen on deepening cooperation in the strategic sectors and focussed on cybersecurity and anti-terrorism as common areas of cooperation.
“India can play a big role in the global coalition against terrorism. Today, all countries can face the same terrorist threat from groups that may be different, but have a common link in the use of religious extremism for common goals. A multireligious country like India is itself a contribution to fighting terror. The very existence of a democracy with these characteristics is strategic,” Mr. Gentiloni said in a special address at the Observer Research Foundation.
Sources indicated that during the bilateral talks at Hyderabad House, both sides expressed a desire to leave difficult issues such as the Italian marines case behind and initiate steps in the interest of the larger relationship. In this direction, Italy supported India’s quest to bring Pakistan-based terror masterminds Masood Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim and others to justice.
“The leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation to take decisive and concerted actions against Al Qaeda, ISIS (Da’esh) and their affiliates and all other UN-designated globally proscribed terrorists and terror entities…,” a joint statement said.
Officials said the statement was proof of Italy’s support to India’s concerns on terrorism.
Mr. Modi said, “India and Italy are two large economies, and the respective strengths of our economies provide us ample opportunities to strengthen our commercial cooperation. There is a lot of potential for our bilateral trade of about $8.8 billion to grow much further.”
Mr. Gentiloni said Italy was “in favour” of the India-EU free trade agreement, which he said had been held back because some of the countries had “held national interests above trade.”
The statement is significant, as it was Italy itself that had held back on allowing India-EU negotiations on trade and investment until the return of the two Marines accused of killing Kerala fishermen in 2012. Relations between India and Italy had only begun to thaw after their return in May 2016. However, Mr. Gentiloni didn’t make any direct reference to the Marines issue in his speech or a pre-screened question and answer session organised by the ORF.
He said India’s role in promoting stability against threats across Asia was also important to Europe.
“India has a role in promoting stability in this region where European interests are directly involved. Not only are we threatened by the North Korean nuclear question, but across Asia. We have an opportunity because we have the main Asian players with strong leadership. Asian superpowers that are known democracies have strong leadership and that is right for stability,” he added.