Indictment adds to US-Italian tensions

PRICKLY RELATIONSHIP: In a separate case that has irked the US, prosecutors are pushing for the indictment of 26 Americans in the alleged 2003 abduction of a cleric

AP , ROME

Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 6

The indictment of a US soldier for the slaying of an Italian intelligence agent near Baghdad's airport added more friction to recently touchy relations between Washington and Rome, with the Pentagon quickly indicating he would not be extradited for the murder trial which starts this spring.

Besides being ordered to stand trial for the murder of agent Nicola Calipari, Specialist Mario Lozano, a member of the New York-based 69th Infantry Regiment, was also indicted on Wednesday on charges of attempted murder.

Calipari was escorting an Italian journalist he had just helped to free from abductors, and the shooting at a checkpoint on the road to the airport wounded the journalist and an Italian intelligence agent who was driving.

When the shooting occurred in 2005, it was a rare tense moment between Washington and the former, conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch US supporter.

But under Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition, which contains Communists, the soldier's indictment was yet another wave to lash against the traditionally rock-solid alliance between the US and Italy, which hosts several US military bases.

Columnist Massimo Franco wrote in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Wednesday that the relationship between Italy and the US was "wobbling dangerously."

"The White House is convinced that the Prodi government is subordinate to anti-American pacifism, and beset by a fragility destined to make it collapse," Franco wrote.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there are no plans to make the soldier available for trial.

In a separate case that has irked US authorities, Milan prosecutors are pushing for the indictment of 26 Americans, all but one of them identified by the prosecution as CIA agents, in the alleged 2003 abduction of an Egyptian cleric, a terrorism suspect, in Italy. The previous Berlusconi government refused to request the CIA agents' extradition.

Since being elected last spring, Prodi's center-left coalition made good on pledges to remove Italy's troops from Iraq.