ROME -- Italy's negotiation for the release of Taliban militants in exchange for the freedom of an Italian hostage in Afghanistan has placed Prime Minister Romano Prodi in the firing line days before a crucial parliamentary vote on keeping the country's troops in Afghanistan.
The move has drawn the ire of the conservative opposition -- whose backing may be necessary in the Senate vote next week -- and the criticism of allies in the United States and Europe.
Government officials said the Afghan government freed five Taliban prisoners to win the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for La Repubblica who had been captured two weeks earlier.
The controversy overshadowed Italy's joy over Mastrogiacomo's release.
While criticism came mainly from the conservative opposition, some within Prodi's ranks also expressed unease.
"We Italians are by now considered unreliable by our own allies," said former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who once came under scrutiny over unconfirmed allegations his government paid ransoms to free Italians abducted in Iraq.
Defense Undersecretary Lorenzo Forcieri said that the opposition had given "carte blanche to do everything possible" to free Mastrogiacomo and that to voice criticism now "was too easy."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States did not approve of the deal.
"Our views are . . . very clear: We don't negotiate with terrorists. We don't advise others to do so as well," McCormack said.