Italy-Iran Foreign Relations

August 2, 2010
Flag of Italy (Available at Wikimedia Commons) 

As a part of the European Union, Italy has supported all sanctions against Iran and has stated that it would support further sanctions if Iran does not comply with the IAEA and its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.[1] Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, said in 2007 that, “the prospect of Iran ... acquiring nuclear weapons is unacceptable for the international community. Italy has implemented the sanctions, the resolutions as well as restrictions decided by the European Union and we'll continue to do our part, convinced as we are that it's indispensable to preserve the cohesion of the international community.”[2] In March 2009, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini stated that the international community should strengthen its stance regarding Iran’s nuclear program, however warned of significant negative consequences if military action were taken against Iran; Frattini also said that Italy, through its leadership of Group of Eight (G8), would increase attention to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.[3] 

In late June 2010, during G-8 talks when world leaders met in Ontario, the leaders of Italy, Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States issued a statement concerning Iran’s nuclear program: “We are profoundly concerned by Iran’s continued lack of transparency regarding its nuclear activities and its stated intention to continue and expand enriching uranium, including to nearly 20 percent.”[4] Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stated, “Iran is not guaranteeing a peaceful production of nuclear power so the members of the G-8 are worried and believe absolutely that Israel will probably react preemptively.”[5]

[Click here for more information on the European Union]


Economic Relationship:

Italy traded more with Iran than any other member of the EU in 2007; bilateral trade between the two totaled well over $7.5 billion.[6] Much of Italy’s trade with Iran comes from investments made by Italy’s energy company, Eni, in Iran’s oil and gas reserves. Beyond cooperation over hydrocarbon extraction, Italy and Iran have cooperated in the commercial industry. Italy’s Fiat has agreed to begin manufacturing its Siena four-door sedans in Iran after signing an agreement with the Iranian car manufacturing company PIDF in July 2008.[7] In addition, Iran has expressed interest in increasing its cooperation with Italy’s banking sector, though extensive UN Security Council and EU sanctions would hamper any potential banking cooperation between the two.[8] Despite extensive sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, many of which Italy has voted in favor of both in the UN and the European Union, Italy continues to be a strong bilateral trade partner of the Islamic Republic.[9] As of 2009, bilateral trade exceeds $8 billion, making Italy Iran’s largest trading partner in the European Union. In March 2009, Italian Ambassador to Tehran Alberto Bradanini called on Iran and Italy to expand economic cooperation; Bradanini noted that the Persian Gulf Mining & Metal Industries Special Zone was a major possible center of future foreign investment.[10] In April 2009, Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari announced the beginning of studies on the construction of a new gas pipeline between Iran and Europe, which would Link Iran to Italy and Greece.[11]

In July 2009, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported that Iran’s oil ministry signed an agreement with an unnamed Italian firm to aid in Phase 12 of the development of the South Pars gas field. While the agency failed to name the Italian company, it did note that the contract was worth more than $1.5 billion.[12] 

In November 2009, Iran’s government said that it would use Italy to launch a communications satellite some time after March 2011 after waiting years for Russia to do the job; however, Italy’s Carlo Gavazzi Space Company said that no launch is planned or even possible at the moment.[13] The Italian Economic Development Ministry confirmed that it never released an export license for the satellite.[14] Later that month, Iranian Managing Director of the Petropars Oil and Gas Company, Gholam Reza Manouchehri, announced that Iran signed a $4 billion contract with Italy and South Korea on the development of the second part of phase 12 of development of the South Pars gas field, adding that another contract has also been signed with Italian Company Tecnimont and Iranian companies Nargan, Dorriz, and Gamma for the development of the third part of the same phase which is worth around $2 billion.[15]

In early February 2010, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Rome has taken a firm stance on blocking new oil and gas investments in Iran, going so far as to suspend export credit guarantees for companies investing in Iran.[16] Frattini said “we are absolutely firm about blocking new investments in the oil and gas sector. We have already blocked insurance by the Italian Export Credit Agency for anyone investing in Iran. This is a completely correct measure.”[17] Also in February, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stated in a speech to Knesset, the Israeli parliament, “we cannot accept the nuclearization of a country whose leaders have explicitly expressed their desire to destroy Israel, have denied the Holocaust and delegitimized the Jewish state.” Berlusconi also called on the international community to pursue stronger sanctions against Iran. 

[Click here for more information on Italy’s business relationship with Iran.]


Diplomatic/Military Relationship:

Political relations between Iran and Italy outside economic relations are limited within the boundaries of the EU and UN sanctions. As a part of the EU, Italy has supported all the sanctions against Iran, and Italy’s Foreign Minister has spoken in favor of tightening sanctions again Iran if it does not comply with UN regulations.[18] During the March 2009 Hague conference on Afghanistan, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini lauded what he viewed as signs that Iran desires “to make a serious commitment” to the stabilization of the Afghanistan and that any solution to Afghan security situation must be based on a “regional approach” including Tehran.[19] In June 2009, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini invited Iran to attend the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Trieste, Italy to discuss security in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Iran ultimately failed to respond to the invitation and Frattini suggested that Iran’s non-response indicated that "it has no interest in explaining to the world if it can be constructive at least in the Pakistani and Afghan region."[20] During the June 2009 meeting, the foreign ministers of the G8 nations demanded “that violence [in Iran]…cease immediately” and called upon Iran to find peaceful solutions to the political crisis.[21] 

In a July 2009 interview with the Italian daily Avanti, Frattini stated that Iran’s role in regional affairs was critical, especially in combating drug trafficking. Since Iran is a “major player in the region,” Tehran should “sit at the table when it comes to resolving the Afghan issue." Frattini also suggested that the success of the G8’s summer meetings in Trieste and L’Aquila proved the wisdom of an approach “based on the involvement of regional powers in areas of crisis,” adding that “Iran is no exception to this rule in Afghanistan."[22]

In February 2010, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said that Israel has asked Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for Italy’s help in getting the European Union to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a “terrorist group.”[23] Shalom added that, “I reminded [Berlusconi] that he has already exercised his influence to put Hamas on this list.”[24] 

Also in February 2010, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a Senate hearing that dozens of members of Iran’s religious Basij militia had tried to attack its embassy in Tehran whilst shouting, “death to Italy,” and “death to Berlusconi.”  The Iranian media described the incident as a student protest, however, and did not mention any violence.[25]  

In August 2010, Iran sent their women’s rugby team to the sevens tournament in Italy to play against the Italian Dolomites.[26] The team representing the Islamic Republic played in the ‘maghnaeh’, “a veil that fully covers the head, shoulders and neck, along with red tracksuit tops and bottoms.”[27] The coach of the Iranian team Fatme Molai said of the uniforms:

“Wearing a veil does not change our method of play – clothes are something you wear and don’t influence what you know how to do. To be honest the federation are looking at  other head covers which are perhaps more practical.”[28]

[1] 2008 EU-US Summit Declaration Brdo, Slovenia, 10 June 2008, Council of the European Union
[2] “Italy Foreign Minister Says Possibility of Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapons 'Unacceptable',” International Herald Tribune, June 7, 2007.
[3]  “Italy Warns Of Detrimental Effects Of Military Campaign Against Iran”, KUNA Online, March 3, 2009
[4] Haddon, Katherine, “G8 Chiefs Slam Iran and North Korea,” AFP, June 26, 2010, (July 4, 2010)
[5] Melman, Yossi, “G-8 ‘Fully Believes’ Israel Will Attack Iran, Says Italy PM,” Haaretz, June 27, 2010,, (July 4, 2010)
[6] International Monetary Fund, Department of Trade Statistics, (November 13, 2008)
[7] “Italy Ready to Raise Military Role in Afghanistan: Foreign Minister Says Italy Prepare to Deploy Troops to Volatile Areas,” The Times and Transcript, July 29, 2008.
[8] “Italy Keen to Boost Banking Cooperation with Iran,” Tehran Times Economic Desk, December 15, 2008.
[9] “Italy, Iran’s no. 1 EU Trade Partner: Envoy,” Tehran Times International Daily, December 20, 2008
[10]  “Italian Ambassador Calls For Enhanced Economic Ties With Iran,” Mehr News Agency, March 6, 2009
[11]  “Nozari: Persian Pipeline Under Study,” Fars News Agency, April 13, 2009
[12] “Italian Firm To Partake In SP Phase 12 Development Plan,” Mehr News Agency, July 29, 2009
[13] “Italian Company Says No Launch for Iran Satellite” Associated Press, November 11, 2009.
[14] “Italian Company Says No Launch for Iran Satellite” Associated Press, November 11, 2009.
[15] “Iran Signs Contract with Italy, South Korea on Development of Gas Field” Fars News Agency, (November 3, 2009)
[16] “Rome ‘Will Block New Iran Deals’”, Upstream Online, (February 2, 2010).
[17] “Rome ‘Will Block New Iran Deals’”, Upstream Online, (February 2, 2010).
[18] “Interview: Italy Pushes Stronger EU Role In Afghanistan, Iran,” Reuters, December 5, 2008
[19]  “UN Conference of Afghanistan: Frattini Calls For Involving Neighbour Countries; Iran Seems Willing To Commit,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Italy), March 31, 2009, (June 29, 2009)
[20]  Rizzo, Alessandra, “Italy: No Repsonse From Itan To G-8 Invitation,” Associated Press, June 22, 2009 (June 30, 2009)
[21]  “Iran, 'Stop Violence' Group of Eight Unanimous Call For Peaceful Solutions,” ANSA, June 26, 2009, (June 30, 2009)
[22] “Italian FM Stresses Iran’s Role In Fighting Drug Trafficking,” Fars News Agency, July 25, 2009
[23] “Israel Wants Rome’s Aid in Blacklisting Iran’s Guards,” AFP, February 2, 2010.
[24] “Israel Wants Rome’s Aid in Blacklisting Iran’s Guards,” AFP, February 2, 2010.
[25] “Italy Says Iranian Militia Attacked Its Embassy,” New York Times, February 9, 2010.
[26] Nick Pisa, “Iran Ladies Rugby Team Makes European Debut Playing in Veils and Tracksuits,” Telegraph, August 1, 2010, (August 2, 2010)
[27] Nick Pisa, “Iran Ladies Rugby Team Makes European Debut Playing in Veils and Tracksuits,” Telegraph, August 1, 2010, (August 2, 2010)
[28] Nick Pisa, “Iran Ladies Rugby Team Makes European Debut Playing in Veils and Tracksuits,” Telegraph, August 1, 2010, (August 2, 2010)