After Kremlin talks on his first foreign visit since becoming Italy's prime minister in April, Romano Prodi said Russian companies would receive access to Italy's energy market in exchange for Italian companies' obtaining access to Russian oil and gas deposits.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin praised the idea, which comes against the backdrop of suggestions from Russian energy companies, in particular natural gas giant Gazprom, that access to European assets was being blocked and European complaints that access to mineral deposits in Russia was being denied under security considerations.
"It is extremely important to hear [proposals] on Russian energy companies' access to the Italian market in exchange for our willingness to give Italian companies access to oil and gas production on Russian territory," Putin said.
The president said Russia was ready to grant access to its mineral resources to any countries that were prepared to engage in equal partnership, such as Germany and its energy corporation BASF, which is a Gazprom partner in a multibillion dollar project to build a gas pipeline direct from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea.
"In essence, this is implementing the additional protocol to the Energy Charter without the Russian Federation's formal, legal ratification of this document," Putin said.
Putin said in May the Energy Charter meant free access to production and transportation infrastructure, but added: "The question is what will we get in return? We ask where your deposits and pipelines are. If [Europe] does not have any, then we have to look for other areas of cooperation."
The president said Russia was ready to open up its deposits to foreign companies, but only from those countries that were ready to cooperate on an equal footing.
Prodi, a former president of the European Commission, also said that Italy would do everything possible to help Ukraine create natural gas reserve for the winter. He said Italy was concerned by Ukraine's failure to make a strategic reserve and would like to avoid the risks it had faced last winter.
In a dispute with Gazprom over the price it paid for Russian natural gas, Ukraine took Russian gas bound for Europe from pipelines across its territory after the Russian company cut off supplies destined for Ukraine, which left European consumers, including Italy, facing shortfalls.
The two members of the Group of Eight industrialized nations also agreed to work out a mechanism for consultations on Iran's controversial nuclear program.
"Italy is one of Russia's most important partners in Europe. Interaction with Iran is very important for the Italian Republic since the volume of economic contacts is very large," Putin said. "In formulating our positions in the negotiating process [on Iran's nuclear problem], we will take Italy's position into account."
Russia has substantial interests in the Islamic Republic - it is building a nuclear reactor in the country - and Prodi, a, said he had stated publicly that Iran was Italy's no.1 commercial partner.
With many countries pushing for economic sanctions to be imposed on Tehran, Putin also spoke in favor of returning the issue to UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in the wake of a meeting last week in China with Iran's president.
"In essence, the UN Security Council is already considering Iran's nuclear program, but our objective is to use the negotiating process between the six countries and Iran to return this issue to the IAEA," he said. "And judging by what I heard from [our] Iranian partners in Shanghai, this is entirely possible."
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