Visiting Italian Premier Romano Prodi on Thursday declined support for India's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), saying it remained a problem. Responding to a question from Hindustan Times after he held discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prodi said the issue was the only problem between the two countries.
"Since many years it is an area of difference, the only problem between us," Prodi said. He added, "Our goal is the same, to adapt the UN to current reality. But we will have more exchange of views on this difficult problem."
Italy's refusal to support India's bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC comes despite Prodi saying that his visit heralded the "start of a completely new era."
"We share an excellent political dialogue and shall strictly work together not only in bilateral but also multilateral forums, for peace," he said in an opening statement before taking questions.
Italy, a key partner in the European Union, is among the few countries which has declined to support India's claims to the UNSC, despite plans to establish a strategic partnership.
The two Prime Ministers briefly met with reporters at Hyderabad House after officials from both countries signed three agreements for closer bilateral cooperation. The agreements included a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a Joint Working Group to combat international terrorism and transnational crime. The other agreements related to cultural exchange and cooperation in renewable energy.
A joint statement issued at the end of Prodi's six-day visit "affirmed their (Singh and Prodi's) commitment to work towards the establishment of a strategic partnership based on their close understanding and excellent political dialogue between the two countries."
Before his visit, Prodi announced a "big new foreign policy initiative" aimed at boosting trade links with India.
"We are launching a big new foreign policy initiative to allow Italy to regain its place" among India's major trading partners, Prodi said. He sought and "welcomed" Indian investment in Italy, he said in response to a question.
Singh said Prodi had assured him that more FDI would be forthcoming.
During the visit, Prodi, who also visited Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, was accompanied by a business delegation comprising 450 representatives of 350 business enterprises.
According to the joint statement, India and Italy have set up a Joint Working Group on infrastructure and "look forward to active cooperation in this sector."
The volume of bilateral trade between India and Italy is around three billion euros.