27 October 2004

The NIAF lunch in Rome

I extend a warm welcome to our NIAF friends:
Its Chairman, Frank Guarini,
Its President, Joe Cerrell,
Its Vice Chairman, Ken Ciongoli,and
Dr Nicotra, the NIAF representative in Italy.

I would like to thank all of you for this fresh opportunity you have given me to voice my support for the Foundation and my appreciation of its work.
When I came to Washington two years ago as your guest I explained the reasons, including my own personal reasons, for feeling so close to the NIAF. If my grandmother had followed her five brothers to America, I would have been an Italian American today. But that was not to be, and you must therefore content yourselves with having with you today the President of the Italian Senate, rather than the President of the US Senate.

Yet there is something of the Italian American in me, because I am also the Honorary President of the Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo, which has a huge membership in the United States. And in that capacity, too, I admire the work that NIAF has done, and is doing, to strengthen relations between our countries. You are making a particularly important contribution because you combine your loyalty to the United States with the promotion of your - and our - cultural and linguistic heritage. If, as I sincerely hope, an Italian American identity will always exist, it will be very largely thanks to you.
In your organization, and in the generations of Italian Americans whom you represent, I can see the values and the principles of America's great and strong democracy: individual freedom primarily, and the quest for the common good, equal opportunities, and the protection of personal rights. These principles and values have enabled millions of Italian migrants to become integrated there and to improve their lot.
Today - and particularly since 11th September - Italy and the United States are committed to defending a common culture and a common civilization.
In Afghanistan, we have seen the first results of this commitment: millions of people went out to vote in the first free elections after decades of oppression. Ballot papers were carried with every available mode of transport, even on the backs of mules. There are those who do not wish to recognize the sea change that has occurred there. But we see it, we appreciate it, and our conclusion is that Italy and the United States have done the right thing.
In Iraq, people are still falling victim to violence. But in Baghdad, as in Kabul, we have to move forward, with determination, doing the right thing. Those who plant bombs and indiscriminately murder people are also doing everything in their power to make the elections fail and prevent the birth of a free Iraq. This is something we must prevent, just as we have to recognize and fight back against the "holy war" that has been declared on us by Islamic fundamentalists.
We know that the Euro-Atlantic link is passing through difficult times, not through any fault of ours. We also know that some of the projects for reforming the United Nations would relegate Italy to a role on the sidelines. The friendship that exists between Italy and the United States will help to resolve these issues. That is yet another reason why it is important to support the NIAF.
The progress made by the Italians of America has been a path of sacrifices and achievements. I will give you one example. Few people in Italy know that it was an Italian, Costantino Brumidi, who painted the frescoes in much of the Congress building in Washington. I hope that next year, when we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the NIAF, the Italian Senate will be able to host an exhibition of his work. It would be yet another way of celebrating your history and our friendship.
One last thing (because I have been asked this so many times): who would you like to win the Presidential election? My answer is this: I want America to win, and I know that America will win. Thank you.