Bush to press Berlusconi on Afghanistan
US President George W Bush was expected to press Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Thursday for a greater contribution by Italy to NATO's military mission in Afghanistan, reported dpa.
"There have been requests from both US officials and NATO officials for all countries, as part of the coalition in Afghanistan, to increase their efforts there," said Judy Ansley, a senior Bush aide who travelled with the US president to Rome on Wednesday.
She said the US is "hopeful" that there would be "increased contributions" from Italy, which to date has deployed its troops mostly in a non-combat capacity in Afghanistan.
Last month Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini indicated Italy may move some of its 2,360 troops in Afghanistan to the country's more dangerous zones, if requested by NATO.
In Thursday's talks, scheduled to begin later afternoon, Berlusconi is expected to try and win Bush's support for Italy's inclusion in a team of countries negotiating with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Italy, Iran's largest trading partner in Europe, wants to be part of the so-called 5 plus 1 team, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Russia, France, Britain, the United States and China - and Germany.
"I don't know how realistic it is," Ansley said with reference to Rome's request, one which Germany has said it opposes.
On Wednesday, Bush flew in to Rome from Berlin - the previous leg of his last European tour as president which includes Slovenia, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Northern Ireland.
On Friday, Bush is scheduled to meet Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City before departing for Paris.