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Two Gentlemen Meet in Verona

August 24, 2003|From Associated Press

VERONA, Italy — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder may not be the warmest of pals, but the two leaders held a cordial session Saturday, burying an embarrassing summer row.

"I don't think you can talk about relations improving, because they never worsened," Berlusconi told reporters after their meeting, sparking a chuckle from Schroeder.

"The relationship was always excellent," Berlusconi said.

Schroeder agreed, adding, "There were some irritations, but this didn't affect the personal or political relationship."

The spat began in July, when Berlusconi made an ill-calculated "joke" about Nazis. The ensuing scandal led Schroeder to cancel his Italian vacation.

In the following weeks, both countries sought to calm matters, insisting that Italy and Germany were friends. Then came the leaders' one-hour talk Saturday, touching on the European Union as well as international matters.

Berlusconi and Schroeder did indicate one remaining difference, regarding the planned constitution for the 15-nation EU, which is to expand next year to 25 countries.

Both sides hope that the document will be ratified soon, but Berlusconi said he would accept as many as three amendments to the draft. Schroeder argued that the text should not be changed at all.

But overall, Italian-German links were emphasized Saturday. In a separate meeting, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu met in Sardinia with his German counterpart, Otto Schily. The two agreed on a program to deal with illegal immigration, Italian news reports said.

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