Ciampi was speaking to 134 Italian ambassadors gathered from embassies around the world, to attend the fifth diplomatic meeting of the Italian ministry of foreign affairs.

He urged the US to confirm NATO's commitment to unify Europe and the US to defend development and security.

Permanent UN member

He expressed concerns over the success of his country's bid to be a permanent member in the UN Security Council. He accused some parties of working to disrupt his country's application, but did not name any.

He said if Italy failed to achieve this political goal, then the EU should be given that status, to show the world a united European voice.

"The EU must be given a permanent seat in the security council to represent all EU countries."

War on Italy

A purported al-Qaida statement has singled out Italy as it threatened Europe with a "bloody war" following the expiry of a 15 July deadline set by Osama bin Ladin for European states to pull troops out of Muslim countries.

"Today, we declare a bloody war on you. We will not stop our raids until you return to reason," said the statement posted on Thursday on a website and allegedly signed by "Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades - al-Qaida".

Abu Hafs was killed in US bombing
in Afghanistan

The authenticity of the statement, on the site www.islamic-minbar.com/forum/, could not be verified.

"After the expiry of the ultimatum by our shaikh Osama bin Ladin ... and because you have not returned to reason, we declare a violent war on you as well as your people ... who, by their silence, support you," it said.

An audiotaped statement issued 15 April by the al-Qaida chief gave European governments three months to withdraw their troops from Muslim states. The ultimatum was later authenticated by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The Italian government said on Thursday it was concerned but unafraid of threats against it for keeping troops in Iraq.

"These are threats that we've been getting since Sept 11," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters.

"We take the terrorist threats seriously, but they do not scare us, and we are not lowering our guard," he added.

Italy witnessed before the war on Iraq in March 2003, the largest anti-war demonstrations in Europe, but the Italian government went to war despite wide popular rejection.

Italian troops in Iraq

In Nasiriya, southern Iraq, Italian troops traded fire on Thursday with Iraqi fighters, Italy's ANSA news agency reported citing a spokesman at military headquarters in Rome who described the situation as tense, in the city which is known for its military heritage.

"The EU must be given a permanent seat in the security council to represent all EU countries."

Carlo Ciampi, Italian president

No-one was injured in the exchanges, during which the fighters took control of two bridges, the agency quoted Captain Ettore Sarli as saying. He said diplomatic contacts are underway to try to calm the situation.

Sarli said one of the clashes occurred at the Italian Libeccio military base, where an Italian soldier was killed on 17 May.

The Italian parliament this week voted to extend the mission in Iraq until the end of the year.