ROME – Italy has effectively suspended a treaty with Libya that includes a nonaggression clause, amid turmoil in the North African nation, the foreign minister said Sunday.
The suspension removes a possible obstacle to Rome taking part in any peacekeeping operations in its former colony, or allowing the use of its military bases.
"We signed the friendship treaty with a state, but when the counterpart no longer exists — in this case the Libyan state — the treaty cannot be applied," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in comments to Sky Italia. "The de facto suspension of this treaty, even without declaring it, is already a reality."
In 2008, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi signed the friendship treaty that included a pledge by Rome to pay Libya US$5 billion as compensation for its 30-year colonial rule. Libya in return promised to help Italy crack down on illegal immigrants.
One of the provisions in the treaty states that the parties commit themselves "not to resort to threatening or using violence." Another provision included a pledge by Italy neither to use nor allow others to use its territory in any hostile act against Libya.
There are several U.S. and NATO bases in Italy, and the U.S. 6th Fleet is based near Naples. After the treaty was signed, NATO sought clarification from Rome, and Frattini had to reassure allies at the time that multilateral international treaties that Rome was party to would stand.
Libya and Italy, whose islands are just a few hundred miles (kilometers) away from Libya's coast, have enjoyed warm ties recently and strong business interests, with Berlusconi and Gadhafi exchanging frequent visits.
As the protests in Libya spread and Gadhafi was accused of using excessive force against his people, Rome stepped up its condemnation of the regime's brutal crackdown.
Frattini welcomed a U.N. Security Council's decision Saturday to impose sanctions against Gadhafi's regime. He said that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya — which council members did not consider — remains an "important" option. But he added that further reflection was needed as such an option would significantly escalate the level of international community's intervention.