Italian foreign minister cancels trip to Iran
Italy's foreign minister canceled a trip to Iran on Wednesday for talks on regional security issues, the ministry said, AP reported.
The Foreign Ministry made no mention of reported criticism over the planned trip, nor did it mention Iran's test Wednesday of a missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. Mideast bases.
A statement by the Foreign Ministry in Rome cited a problem over the meeting place for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It said Ahmadinejad wanted the meeting in Semnan - site of the missile launch - instead of in the capital, Tehran.
The statement said the foreign minister, Franco Frattini, "expressed his strong regret over the missed opportunity to explore possible ways for Iran to be involved in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Frattini had been scheduled to depart later Wednesday.
He would have been the most senior official from an EU country to visit Iran in four years, since Ahmadinejad was elected president. News reports said European allies had accused Italy of breaking ranks.
EU governments have sought to avoid high-level meetings because of Iran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program, as called for in U.N. resolutions. Iran claims it is only seeking nuclear fuel for energy, not weapons production.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Italy for its cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan and on dealing with tricky foreign policy issues, including Iran and Middle East peace talks.
In February, the Foreign Ministry said Frattini had been invited to Iran for talks expected to focus on Afghanistan and regional security issues.
Frattini has also been considering whether to invite Iran to a June conference in Trieste on the stabilization of Afghanistan as part of Italy's Group of Eight presidency. The ministry has said in the past that he would discuss the possibility with Iran and with Italy's allies.
Italy has had good relations with Iran, and is the country's leading trading partner in the European Union. Italian officials believe no long-term stability can be reached in the Middle East region without involving Iran.