May 27, 2006

Rice to meet Italian minister ahead of Iraq pullout

ROME (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
will meet her new Italian counterpart on June 12 in Washington
to discuss issues including Rome's plans to withdraw its troops
from Iraq, Italy's foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Italy's centre-left Prime Minister Romano Prodi has vowed
to live up to campaign promises for a swift pull-out, recently
calling the Iraq war a "grave error."

Prodi, elected last month, is still drawing up a timetable
to withdraw Italy's 2,800 soldiers. He is expected to speed up
plans by his centre-right predecessor Silvio Berlusconi that
would have ended the Iraq mission by the end of the year.

Military sources have suggested this might now happen
within several months.

A ministry spokesman said the agenda for the meeting
between Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema and Rice had not been
finalized, but that the Iraq withdrawal would be one of the

D'Alema said last week that Italy will show less deference
to the United States now that Berlusconi, one of U.S. President
George W. Bush's strongest supporters, has lost power. But the
government has stressed that the nations would remain close