Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi resigned Tuesday over the government’s decision to return two Italian marines to India to stand trial for killing two local fishermen in a case that has soured diplomatic ties between the countries.
“I resign in disagreement with the decision to send our marines back to India,” Mr. Terzi told Parliament. “I am resigning because for 40 years I have maintained, and still maintain, that the reputation of the country, the armed forces and Italian diplomacy should be safeguarded.”
Mr Monti responded to the resignation with surprise. He said he had met Mr Terzi earlier on Tuesday and the foreign minister had not mentioned his intention to quit. Meanwhile Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola said he would not step down over the crisis because he did not want to “abandon a ship in difficulty“.
The case has strained ties at a time when Italy is trying to sell sophisticated helicopters to India and amid anger over suspected bribes paid by the Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica to Indian military officials. It also comes at a delicate political time for Italy, which is in limbo since elections in February failed to yield a clear winner; the departing government of Prime Minister Mario Monti is acting in a caretaker capacity.
The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, are accused of killing the fishermen off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala in February 2012, while on duty guarding an Italian oil tanker from pirates.
Italy initially said that the episode had taken place in international waters and that the marines had mistaken the fishermen’s boat for a pirate vessel. India rejected that argument but allowed the marines to return home for Christmas on the condition that they come back for the trial, a pledge that Italy’s ambassador had promised to uphold.
But on March 11, Italy reversed its decision, arguing that the marines should be tried in an international court. Furious, India told the Italian ambassador that he would not be able to leave the country. Last week, Italy sent the marines back to New Delhi, accompanied by the deputy foreign minister, Staffan de Mistura.
That reversal was too much for Mr. Terzi.
“The good news is that the potential diplomatic crisis had been avoided,” Mr. de Mistura told a news conference in New Delhi.
The spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry, Syed Akbaruddin, who was traveling in South Africa, declined to comment on Mr. Terzi’s resignation.
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