Occupying a 700-mile peninsula in the Mediterranean, Italy is shaped like a boot, with Sicily at the toe. The country shares boundaries with France, Switzerland, Austria and Yugoslavia. Although originally settled by the Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans, Italy was eventually united after the Renaissance in 1861. From 1870 to 1922, Italy existed as a constitutional monarchy and sided with the Allies in World War I. However, World War II brought fascism and an alliance with Nazi Germany under Benito Mussolini. After the Axis Powers were defeated, the Italian monarchy was ended, and the country’s borders adjusted as part of the peace treaty. Since the 1950s, Italy has made significant strides in joining the European community of nations, joining NATO in 1950 and allying itself with the United States. Although the Italian government has suffered from violence and corruption, not to mention influence from organized crime, the country instituted reforms during the 1990s, only to fall again into corruption when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was indicted on charges stemming from tax evasion, bribery and antitrust violations in 2004. More than 15 million Americans have family roots in Italy.
Lay of the Land: Italy’s 700-mile-long peninsula juts out of the European heartland into the Mediterranean like a long leg wearing a high-heeled boot, with the island of Sicily at its toe. The south slope of the majestic Alps is Italy’s, forming the western boundary with France, the northern boundary with Switzerland, Austria, and the eastern boundary with Yugoslavia. Italy includes Sicily, Sardinia, and many smaller islands, notably Elba (where Napoleon was exiled), Capri, and Ischia Vatican City (the Papal State in Rome) and San Marino (oldest republic in the world) are independent enclaves within Italy. Scenic beauty is diverse, from the vast, fertile Po Valley, picturesque lakes, and Alps in the north to aridity and expanses of hill country in the south, to green, undulating hills in Umbria and Tuscany, to the rugged landscape of the Apennines running the length of the peninsula and forming a spiny backbone. Italy’s mountainous character (nearly 80%) has bred regionalism, which has long influenced political and economic developments.
The United States enjoys warm relations with Italy. Italy is a leading trade partner with the US, and the two countries are NATO allies. Additionally, the United States and Italy cooperate in regional organizations. In recent years, Italy and the United States have worked together on NATO and UN missions, as well as with assistance to Russia and the New Independent States; Lebanon; the Middle East peace process; multilateral talks; Somalia and Mozambique peacekeeping; and combating drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children, and terrorism. The US and Italy also cooperate on major economic issues, such as the G-8 Summit.
Through October 2008, Italy was the US’s 14th largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade of $44.4 billion ($13.3 billion in exports to Italy and $31.1 billion in imports from Italy). The US’s $17.7 billion deficit with Italy through October 2008 was consistent with the $20.9 billion deficit registered in 2007.
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The 2007 State Department human rights report stated that problems involving lengthy pretrial detention, excessively long court proceedings, violence against women, trafficking in persons, and abuse of Roma remained problems.
Included among the more illustrious U.S. ambassadors to Italy are William Waldorf Astor who, five years later (1890), inherited the largest fortune in the United States; Ellsworth Bunker, who later served as ambassador to South Vietnam during most of the Vietnam War (1967-1973); Claire Boothe Luce, playwright, journalist and member of the House of Representatives (1943-1947); and John Volpe, governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of Transportation under Richard Nixon.
Claudio Bisogniero, who has been posted to the U.S. on two previous occasions, officially took the reins as Italy’s ambassador to the U.S. on February 6, just in time to coordinate the visit to Washington of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who will arrive on February 9. The previous ambassador, Giulio Terzi, was called back to Italy to serve as foreign minister after the forced resignation of the nation’s controversial prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
If appointing U.S. ambassadors was like song dedications, then the selection of David H. Thorne as envoy to Italy and San Marino would be akin to President Barak Obama proclaiming, “This one goes out to you, John Kerry.” Thorne, a Boston businessman, is a longtime and close friend of the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, having gone to college and served in Vietnam with Kerry, and been related at to him one time by marriage through Thorne’s sister. Thorne was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Italy and San Marino on August 17, 2009.