It is important that the American people understand precisely what is the common feeling of Italian public opinion about events connected to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
In Italy there was broad support for the policy of the Craxi government, and dismay over the government's resignation, for three main reasons. The first was that Bettino Craxi and his cabinet were able to free the ship from the hijackers safely and promptly. In fact, the ship and its 450 passengers were freed as a result of a political action of the Italian government.
The success was not complete because of the murder of an American citizen. We felt all the horror of his death, and we understand he American reaction. But at the end, the Italian action served to prevent worse consequences.
Then, when the Egyptian airliner with the terrorists was forced by U.S. military planes to land in Italy, our country cooperated with the United States by allowing it to land. In the meantime, assuming Italian sovereignty, the government asserted the right to identify and judge the four Palestinian terrorists and finally to return the plane to Egypt.
The United States reproached us harshly because Italy did not detain one of the passengers, Mohammed Abbas, while it was waiting for new evidence from the United States in support of the American request to extradite him. But Prime Minister Craxi had already explained in parliament the legal reason that prevented it. He also explained that Abbas was on an Egyptian airplane under the protection of 10 Egyptian military men with orders to open fire.
Personally, I offer another reflection. How would international public opinion have greeted an Italian decision to continue jailing the man who played the role of mediator in order to free the ship? Italian public opinion cannot understand, moreover, why the United States negotiated with the terrorists in June for the release of the TWA airplane and its hostages, and now became so indignant at Italy and her government for doing the same thing.
There was a second reason for popular support of the Craxi government. After the severe judgment of the American administration, one of the five parties in the governing coalition, the Italian Republican party, claiming it had not been properly consulted, resigned from the government and forced Prime Minister Craxi to resign. But this provoked in Italy an outpouring of national pride, giving new force to Craxi and putting anyone who would succeed him in an embarrassing and weak position.
The third reason was that, as a result of the Craxi resignation, the stock market fell and economic and financial institutions were disturbed. All economic circles showed their dissatisfaction.
But now we can happily register the beginning of a phase of renewed favorable relations between the American and Italian governments. This is very important, and we hope that it will develop further if Prime Minister Craxi meets President Reagan at the summit of the most important Western countries in New York on Thursday.
The United States has in Italy a sure and faithful ally. This goes without question. At the same time, Americans need to understand that Italy has grown not only on the economic side but also on the social and political side. It is a country that can meet its responsibilities even if they are not easy, as it did on the Euromissile question, where Italy played a decisive role in the European theater.
Our country is engaged in modernizing its institutions and reforming its economy. As president of the European Economic Community earlier this year, Italy was able to increase its prestige throughout the continent. Italy is a country more proud of itself now than in the past. The fact that all this happened with a Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, has enriched our democracy.
A country like the United States, which has global responsibilities, must naturally pay attention first of all to its own public opinion. But it also should be able to understand the feelings of another, allied country, such as Italy, that wants to continue to cooperate closely with the United States from a position of mutual respect.