Swiss cooperation with the United States in the fight against terrorism is to be strengthened by a formal agreement that will go before parliament for approval.This content was published on May 3, 2006 - 21:51
The accord, which the government announced on Wednesday, is intended to replace a secret treaty signed in 2002 between the two countries.
The cabinet had then approved a judicial aid agreement, known as the "Operative Working Arrangement", after the terror attacks of September 2001 in the US.
Judged in some quarters as too favourable to the US, the accord was never presented to parliament.
Last year, the government felt it was high time that cooperation with the American authorities was put on a more formal footing.
It asked the justice and police ministry to come up with a new text, which was put together after negotiations with Washington.
"The issue of making this accord public proved a stumbling block during the negotiations but the Americans finally accepted it," commented the justice minister Christoph Blocher.
The treaty of 2002 had been signed "in great emotion" to help in the fight against the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation, he added.
The new accord would be more precise and clear about cooperation in the fight against terrorism and its financing.
It foresees the exchange of law enforcement officials to create joint teams of investigators, who would only act when a criminal procedure had been opened in the two countries and handed to a prosecutor.
The government said the new accord would contain severe restrictions on the use of information gathered by investigators.
In a related development, the government on Wednesday also approved the creation of a US-Swiss trade and investment cooperation forum, saying that the breadth of bilateral economic relations called for "structured cooperation".
The economics ministry said in a statement that the forum was the result of closer ties that came about between the two sides when discussing the feasibility of a free-trade agreement.
It said the forum was a "significant step" towards strengthening economic relations between the two countries and provided an opportunity to negotiate a free-trade accord at a later stage.
The forum's creation was announced in late January by Economics Minister Joseph Deiss and the US trade representative, Rob Portman, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Their announcement came ten days after the failure to agree on the terms for negotiations on a free-trade accord.
In Geneva on Wednesday for talks within the framework of the World Trade Organization, Portman said he was delighted at the news.
"This forum will help us move forward to develop trade between Switzerland and the United States," he said.
And in another move linking the two countries, the government has adopted a memorandum of understanding to expand dialogue on all matters of mutual interest.
The memorandum foresees regular political dialogue covering the full range of bilateral relations.
The Swiss foreign ministry, which proposed the move, said in a statement that it would ensure a direct and constantly open communication channel between Bern and Washington.
A year ago, the government decided to strengthen relations with strategically important regions and states.
It identified "considerable potential" for further deepening and extending relations with the US.
swissinfo with agencies
The attacks against the US on September 11, 2001, marked a turning point in the fight against terrorism.
A year later, Bern and Washington signed a judicial aid agreement known as the "Operative Working Arrangement"
In June 2005 the justice and police ministry was asked to formulate a new accord. It does not limit cooperation to the attacks of 2001 but covers the fight against terrorism in general and its financing.
The new accord has to be debated in the two houses of parliament before it can come into operation.
The House of Representatives will discuss it first before the end of the year.
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