The launch of the Italian satellite AGILE on board an Indian-built rocket from Sriharikota threw U.S.-Italian relations out of kilter in 2007, after the U.S. maintained that Italy had re-exported classified U.S. defence technology to India without a proper licence.

In a confidential cable (110065: confidential) sent to the Secretary of State's office and U.S. embassies in India and Paris, U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald P. Spogli revealed that AGILE carried on board a reaction wheel assembly that was included on the U.S. munitions list and subject to U.S. export controls. The Americans, the testily worded May 26 cable showed, had engaged with Italy in Washington and Rome for up to a year before AGILE's April 23 launch, advising Rome that it would have “potential negative consequences for economic bilateral negotiations” but that the Italians had “disregarded” their council.

Italian response

Minister Giovanni Manfredi, Head of Office VI (Energy, Space, S&T Cooperation, Information Society, and Nuclear Issues) of Italy's Directorate General for Multilateral Economic and Financial Affairs gave a phlegmatic response to the delivery of “a strongly worded protest” by U.S. ECMIN Thomas Delaware.

“Manfredi,” wrote Mr. Spogli, “made little attempt to defend ASI and/or the Ministry of Universities' decision to authorize AGILE's Indian launch, disregarding MFA's counsel. He explained that the MFA has no authority over either the Agency or the Ministry.” He also told the U.S. the satellite “probably did not deliberately violate U.S. export control regulations,” given efforts to remove other defence components originally ordered for AGILE. He said the U.S. had handled Italy's Carlo Gavazzi Spazio's export licence requests in a “confusing” way and Italy had relied upon the assurances of the U.S. company Goodrich regarding the reaction wheel component.

The successful launch of AGILE put India among an exclusive group of nations whose space programmes were to commercial use. The Italian media, to Washington's chagrin, reported “little but tough” Italy resisting an American attempt to restrict Italian research.

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