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Friday, June 2, 2023

Meloni visits India and UAE to mend old defense mess

ROME — Italy’s prime minister will visit India and the United Arab Emirates this week to re-establish defense ties after a series of diplomatic crises that led to an Italian ban on arms sales in India and the expulsion of Italian military personnel from a key base in the Gulf.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived in New Delhi on Thursday to meet Indian leader Narendra Modi before heading to Abu Dhabi on Friday and Saturday – a trip Rome officials hope will Improve tensions with India and Dubai.

In New Delhi, Meloni told Modi she wanted defense sales Back on track, while Modi talked about opportunities for joint production in the defense industries of the two countries.

The Indian leader also announced that the two countries will start joint military exercises and training.

“Prime Minister Meloni’s visit is expected to further strengthen and deepen the longstanding relationship between India and Italy,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Managers of Italian national defense companies Leonardo and Fincantieri participated in a business forum with Indian CEOs chaired by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.

An Italian government source told Defense News: “It’s the reopening of the channels, a return to normalcy — there’s no agreement, but it’s about the establishment of the framework.”

Italy’s visit to India marks a marked shift in relations that have been stalled for a decade amid an alleged corruption scandal.

In 2013, the head of Leonardo, then known as Finmeccanica, was arrested in Italy over alleged kickbacks paid by the company to Indian officials for a 560 million euro ($593.5 million) sale of 12 AW101 helicopters to India.

As the case moved to Italian courts, it sparked a similar investigation in India, culminating in an acquittal in Italy in 2019 after multiple Supreme Court trials.

By then, India had imposed a ban on defense purchases from Italy that was only lifted last year.

The second most recently resolved dispute between Italy and India even dates back to 2012, when two Italian marines opened fire on an Indian fishing boat that was approaching the vessel they were guarding, killing two people on board. Indian fishermen.

The spat turned into a diplomatic spat over India’s detention of marines, with Italy vetoing India’s accession to the crucial Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an exclusive club of 34 member states that controls non-members .

It was only last year that India’s Supreme Court concluded all proceedings against the marines after Italy handed over $1.36 million in damages.

When she travels from India to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Meloni will seek to defuse another diplomatic spat over an arms embargo imposed on the UAE by Italy’s previous government in early 2021 in protest at the Military operations in Yemen.

Then the United Arab Emirates Expulsion of Italian aircraft and personnel from the Al Minhad air base in the United Arab Emirates, and denied Italian military aircraft the use of its airspace.

Al Minhad was at the time an important staging point for Italian military aircraft flying to the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

Defense industry relations between Italy and the UAE have also been strained by the complex saga of the Hammerhead drone, a drone developed from Piaggio Aero’s P180 business jet.

Italy-based Piaggio began developing Hammerhead in 2014 after it was taken over by Abu Dhabi-based strategic investment and development firm Mubadala Development Company.

The UAE wanted to buy Hammerhead, but also wanted Italy to buy a version, and Rome agreed. But when Italy balked at the takeover, the UAE dropped it, canceled the order and placed the company in receivership in 2018.

Now, Meloni will seek to restart defense ties in Abu Dhabi, accompanied by Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, who is also meeting the prime minister in India after visiting the UAE in February .

Tom Kington is Defense News’ Italy correspondent.

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