22 ottobre 2009

Tony Halpin and Richard Owen
Berlusconi 'snubs King of Jordan in favour of Vladimir Putin Birthday Party


Silvio Berlusconi was accused of spurning a chance to help the Middle East peace process last night after apparently snubbing the King of Jordan in favour of a party with his old friend Vladimir Putin.
Opposition politicians in Rome demanded to know why the Prime Minister had cancelled a meeting with King Abdullah, choosing instead to fly to St Petersburg to discuss energy projects between Russia and the EU — and, it was alleged, to attend a private party in honour of Mr Putin’s 57th birthday on October 7. La Repubblica newspaper reported that Mr Berlusconi would “carry fine wines” as a gift for Mr Putin.
The Russian Prime Minister’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said that it was “a private visit but with working content”. He denied that a party was being held at Lake Valdai, south of St Petersburg, but acknowledged that Mr Berlusconi, 73, would travel to the city. “I can’t exclude that they certainly will be somehow celebrating his birthday, but it’s not the main reason for the visit,” he told The Times.
Nobody mentioned dancing girls, but they are likely to make an appearance before Mr Berlusconi leaves tomorrow, if past get-togethers are an indication of protocol on such occasions. Mr Berlusconi boasted last year that he had taken a troupe of dancing girls from Rome to his residence in Sardinia to entertain Mr Putin, saying that he was returning the compliment for a performance of the “Dance of the Veils” that Mr Putin arranged in St Petersburg in 2007.
Pierluigi Bersani, a leader of Italy’s centre-Left opposition, said he was “appalled” at Mr Berlusconi’s decision to give priority to the Russian trip rather than meeting King Abdullah, who is in Rome. Mr Berlusconi telephoned the King to cancel the meeting. Aides to the Prime Minister said he was suffering from a “slight indisposition”. Mr Bersani said the snub was “inexplicable”.
Francesco Rutelli, a Democratic Party Senator, noted in Corriere della Sera: “Where else in the world can a government leader go on a secret trip to meet with the leader of one of the main countries in the world?” Emma Bonino, the former EU commissioner and senator for the Radical Party, said: “This is all very strange. The idea that they are going to hunt deer and talk about gas for three days seems hardly probable.”
Aides to Mr Berlusconi said that he and Mr Putin would discuss Moscow’s plans to build more pipelines to Europe, including South Stream, a joint venture by Gazprom and Italy’s ENI to pipe Russian gas under the Black Sea to central and southern Europe. They said, however, that Mr Berlusconi would be joined on the visit only by bodyguards, a valet, and Valentino Valentini, his chief assistant.
US diplomats in Rome have expressed “concern” over the Italian leader’s close relationships with Mr Putin and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, urging him to “diversify” his international contacts.