ROME — Italy distanced itself from harsh criticism of the U.S. relief effort in Haiti on Monday, a day after the top Italian disaster official called it a "pathetic" failure and questioned the role of U.S. troops.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also dismissed the criticism, saying during a news conference with Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in Washington that such a massive humanitarian response could not succeed without armed troops.
Frattini told the reporters that Rome appreciated Washington's military intervention.
On Sunday, Italy's civil protection chief had blasted the U.S. military intervention as inefficient and out of touch with reality on the ground. In an interview with state-run RAI television, Guido Bertolaso said the overall relief effort was a "pathetic" failure, and called for the appointment of an international civilian humanitarian coordinator.
The criticism was unusual from Italy, a close European ally of the United States. While Bertolaso is not an elected official, he is a well-respected Cabinet undersecretary who enjoys a close relationship with Premier Silvio Berlusconi. In his comments to RAI, he stressed that he was not speaking in that official capacity.
Frattini, as he was visiting Washington, emphasized Italy's appreciation for the U.S. leadership in Haiti.
"I want to repeat here how highly we value the important and generous efforts of the United States to help the people in Haiti," Frattini said. "We highly value, we strongly appreciate the personal commitment of President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton to help people there."
Clinton, for her part, noted that Italy itself is sending a military ship – the aircraft carrier Cavour – to help with the relief effort.
"There is always an opportunity in the face of any disaster for what we in the United States call 'Monday morning quarterbacking,'" Clinton said, using a sports saying that describes the tendency to criticize in hindsight. "But what we see is an enormously committed and effective international effort that could not succeed without additional military assets."
Bertolaso appeared to be backpedaling Monday. The Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying that he wasn't attacking the United States, which was making an "important effort." Instead, Bertolaso was quoted as saying in the earthquake-stricken Italian town of L'Aquila that he was criticizing "the lack of coordination by international organizations" which was leaving "thousands of Haitians abandoned unto themselves."