The Business Year

Roberto Cantone Ambassador of Italy, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

SAUDI ARABIA - Diplomacy

Roberto Cantone

Ambassador of Italy, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Roberto Cantone graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Turin. From 1988-1989, he was assigned to the General Directorate for Cultural Affairs. He later attended Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, France, after which he served as second/first secretary to the Italian Embassy in Algiers. He also served as consul of the Italian Consulate General in London, counsellor in the crisis unit of the Foreign Ministry in Rome, and deputy head of mission of the Italian Embassy in Beirut. Cantone was also previously the ambassador of Italy to the Republic of Sudan as well as to Afghanistan. He also served as head of the unit for scientific and technological cooperation of the Foreign Ministry in Rome.

“Let me highlight the great potential of cooperation to further develop the UNESCO sites of Al Ula or Diriyah, considering the Italian expertise in archeological restoration techniques.”
Italy’s strong presence in Saudi Arabia is a great reflection of the strong partnership achieved in over 90 years of diplomatic relations.
2022 marks the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Italy. How would you assess the evolution of the ties between the two nations, and what are the main highlights and milestones achieved during 90 years of dialogue?

From the outset, the relations between the two countries have revolved around the leitmotif “diplomacy of friendship.” Italy was indeed one of the first countries to recognize the Kingdom in 1932, and King Abdulaziz defined Italy as a country toward which Saudi Arabia had always expressed feelings of sincere friendship. From the post-war period onwards, Italy has entertained an intense political dialogue with Saudi Arabia, sharing similar views with respect to the crises affecting the Middle East region and working at the same time in order to lay the foundations for a solid economic partnership. The signature on 1975 of the economic, industrial and financial cooperation agreement is definitely a milestone since it established the Joint Commission between the Italian Republic and the Kingdom. Since that time, we have convened several sessions of this inter-governmental framework, the last taking place in Riyadh in June 2022 with the presence of the Italian former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Luigi Di Maio, and the Saudi Minister of Finance, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan. Over the years, the meetings at governmental level have accompanied the establishment of a number of Italian companies in Saudi Arabia, firstly focusing on the oil and gas sector and now on the various economic sectors addressed by Vision 2030. The Italian presence in the Kingdom is therefore growing and ultimately reflects the strong partnership achieved in these 90 years of diplomatic relations.

The Italian former Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Luigi Di Maio, made an official visit to Riyadh and agreed to strengthen bilateral economic relations: in what specific areas will bilateral cooperation focus on?

Minister Di Maio came to Riyadh to chair the Joint Commission and address the Italian-Saudi Investment Forum. We are committed to enhancing our economic bilateral cooperation in the sectors that are playing a vital role in relation to the Kingdom’s endeavor to diversify its economy and ensure a lasting and sustainable economic growth for its people. Among these sectors are renewable energy, transport and infrastructure, and tourism and culture, which were the focus of the Investment Forum, attended by many Italian and Saudi companies. Another of the main outcomes of the Joint Commission was the signing of an MoU between the Italian Space Agency and the Saudi Space Commission to enhance cooperation in the fields of space exploration, space technology, Earth observation, human spaceflight, as well as R&D.

Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030. What lesson can KSA learn from Italy?

As laid out by Vision 2030, the drive to advance the tourism industry relies on the development of resorts along the Red Sea cost, on the construction of NEOM, as well as on the preservation of the Kingdom’s rich cultural and historical heritage. In this respect, let me highlight the great potential of cooperation to further develop the UNESCO sites of Al Ula or Diriyah, considering the Italian expertise in archeological restoration techniques. We have already deployed an archeological mission led by the University of Naples aiming at restoring the pre-Islamic historical sites in Dumat Al Jandal in the province of Al Jawf, though much more can be done. This is why I seek to facilitate an MoU between the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Ministry of Culture of the Italian Republic. Italy will continue to support Saudi participation in the Biennale di Venezia, as well as in other international cultural events, in order to respond to the growing interest showed by the general public towards Saudi Arabia’s vibrant cultural scene.



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