Sparks fly over decision to base NATO missiles in Italy

As if skyrocketing inflation, a shaky lira, and the resurgence of the terrorist Red Brigades were not enough, the fledgling government of Italy's Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini must now fend off heavy criticism of its decision to base 112 NATO missiles in southeastern Sicily, beginning in 1983.

The opposition Radical Party plans to hold a disarmament demonstration in Sicily in mid-September and the Italian Communist Party has demanded a special session of Parliament to deal with the formal parliamentary inquiry the Communists requested immediately after Dr. Spadolini's decision was announced Aug. 7.

President Reagan's decision to go ahead with the neutron bomb has further aggravated the prime minister's troubles. If nothing else, it has provided the Communists, who are busy articulating issues to press for early elections, with yet another forum for grandstanding, says one Italian observer.

Sen. Adalberto Minucci, secretary of the Italian Communist Party, has denounced Dr. Spadolini's contention that the modernization of NATO's nuclear force in Europe and the military balance between East and West are "indispensable for starting up a dialogue between East and West again."

The Communists have always insisted that any decision to accept the missiles should be postponed until the outcome of the negotiations with the Soviet Union on arms reduction.

In Mr. Minucci's words, the US decision to build the neutron bomb "casts an ominous shadow on the whole world situation. It creates serious obstacles that will sabotage and undermine the results of the disarmament talks coming up in September."

The communique issued by Dr. Spadolini's defense minister, Lelio Lagorio, which says "Italian diplomacy is currently working actively to urge the immediate start of East-West negotiations aimed at reducing or canceling such armaments in a climate of reciprocal security," is even more "hypocritical" in light of Reaganhs neutron bomb decision, Mr. Minucci said.

Although the Communists dissented in the December 1979 vote of the Italian Parliament that approved the siting of NATO cruise missiles at Magloiovo air base near Comiso in Sicily, their opposition to the missiles has been considerably less forceful than their stand against the neutron bomb.

"If the Communists manage to link the two issues and create a popular protest that divides the country, they could create a problem for the government that might lead to new elections," said a source at the Rome-based Institute for International Affairs.

However, this source doubted the Communists would actually mount a full-scale effort to mobilize the opposing groups. The Communists would have to take their battle beyond the confines of the Italian Parliament since they do not have enough votes to reverse the cruise missile decision.

The Socialist, who are participating in Spadolini's coalition government, are not likely to defect, particularly since they approved the 1979 decision to accept the NATO missiles.

And the Communists' natural allies in this issue are the Radicals, whose environmental, human-rights, liberal concerns would not make very compatible bedfellows with the hard-line Communist ideologues.

If anything, the Communist protest could backfire.

Some observers interpret the Communist protest and denunciations as evidence the Italian Communists are as close to the Soviet Union as ever.

As the secretary of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, Pietro Longo put it, "The Italian Communist Party systematically echoes Moscow's line in such matters of international interest, and it appears incapable of freeing itself from this bond to Moscow."

In any event, the issue is certain to be stalled until after the Italians return from their traditional August holiday. Obviously Spadolini, who timed his missile announcement for the slow period in the hopes it would slip by uncontested, now hopes the lull will diffuse his opponents' threats of demonstrations and protest.

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