Iran urges prisoner swap negotiations
The Jerusalem Post:
An Italian lawmaker said Tuesday he has received written messages from a top Iranian negotiator requesting that Italy negotiate for the release of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers whose abduction prompted monthlong fighting in Lebanon.
Sen. Sergio De Gregorio, head of the Senate's defense commission, said he has received two messages from Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, asking Italy to act as a mediator between Israel and Hezbollah and help initiate a prisoner swap.
The messages communicated that "Iran is ready to pressure Hezbollah to accept a prisoner exchange and that Iran wants to discuss this issue only with Italy," De Gregorio told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. READ MORE
The messages were delivered by a trusted intermediary, a representative in Tehran of an organization that De Gregorio heads that promotes cultural and commercial ties with Italy, De Gregorio said. The first was sent about four weeks ago, after the senator gave an interview to Iranian public TV appealing for the soldiers' release.
The second message, received last week, also claimed that "the two Israeli soldiers are alive but that their health condition requires medical attention," De Gregorio said.
Israel launched its campaign against Hezbollah after the Shiite guerrillas killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others in a July 12 cross-border raid.
De Gregorio said he was speaking to the media about the messages to push the Italian government into action, noting that Italy was in a good position to take on the role as a mediator as it has strong relations with Israel while remaining Iran's leading trading partner in the European Union.
The Foreign Ministry had no comment.
Premier Romano Prodi has said his center-left government is working as a "facilitator" of efforts to resolve the crisis. Italy is also willing to command a beefed-up UN force in Lebanon and has offered to contribute up to 3,000 troops.