Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran and argued that a gentle approach might be more helpful.
Iran has been hit with several rounds of international sanctions over its nuclear program, which the United States and allies believe could be used to produce nuclear weapons. Iran insists the program is meant purely for peaceful purposes.
On Friday, Berlusconi was quoted as telling Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily that, although Italy has participated in the sanctions, "I fear that sanctions will not bring success."
He said sanctions have tended to reinforce regimes in countries such as Cuba, and "a gentle and circumspect approach would be more helpful," the newspaper reported.
Berlusconi identified Russia and China as countries that could pursue such an approach, and said he had asked China's Premier Wen Jiabao "to use his influence in this direction." The two permanent U.N. Security Council members have been more hesitant than Western nations about taking a hard line against Iran, and Russian engineers have helped Iran build a nuclear power plant.
Italy has supported U.N. sanctions despite its strong commercial ties with Tehran, but also has always tried to reach out to Iran by trying to get it involved in issues such as Afghanistan's future.
Asked if Iran can be integrated in the international community, Berlusconi replied: "We must at least try that - it is the only way to get Iran out of its blind alley."
Israel is particularly worried about Iran's intentions. As Iran's archenemy, the Jewish state fears it will be targeted by Iran and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made references to Israel's destruction.
"Regarding Israel, we can only hope that the nuclear threat is not viewed as so great that Israel takes military action against Iran," Berlusconi was quoted as saying.