Berlusconi wants to win elections and stay with US

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday that Washington wanted him to win elections in April, though this did not mean the United States was interfering in Italy's domestic affairs.

"The American government fears a change of government in Italy," Berlusconi told after meeting President George W. Bush at the White House, according to the Italian news agencies ANSA and AGI.

"I assured him that we would win," the Italian prime minister said, adding later that the United States was not interfering in Italian political affairs.

"The president believes Prime Minister Berlusconi has provided strong leadership. Under his leadership Italy has been one of our closest allies and made enormous contributions to peace and security," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Berlusconi is trailing center-left rival Romano Prodi in opinion polls ahead of April elections. Prodi has promised to withdraw Italy's forces from Iraq if he is elected.

Berlusconi is one of Washington's strongest allies. Although he did not send troops to join the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, he did send Italian forces after the fall of Baghdad.

Italy pulled about 300 soldiers from Iraq earlier this year, leaving about 2,900 troops there.

The Italian leader created a stir before his visit to Washington by saying he had warned the United States against invading Iraq.

"I tried many times to convince the American president not to go to war," he said in an interview with the La7 television network broadcast on Monday.

Berlusconi has rejected accusations at home that Italy's intelligence agency passed off fake documents to Washington that claimed Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger in the run-up to the war, Reuters reports.


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