Swiss president wraps up controversial visit to the Gulf

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Swiss President Ueli Maurer on the latter's visit to Saudi Arabia. Ministère des Affaires Etrangères du Royaume d'Arabie Saoudite/twitter

Swiss President Ueli Maurer has concluded his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the major topics of conversation were finance and sustainability. Human rights and democracy issues were also “raised”, the government said.

This content was published on October 29, 2019

The four-day visit by Maurer, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, was the subject of scrutiny in Switzerland after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year led to the visit being postponed.

The Saudis have conceded that Khashoggi was murdered by a special team dispatched from Riyadh to Istanbul for the purpose, and they have opened an investigation. However, they deny that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – whom Maurer met in Riyadh – was aware of the operation.

Although the initial Swiss reaction to the Khashoggi killing was that it would review ties with Saudi Arabia, it has since moved more towards a situation of normalisation.

According to a government press releaseExternal link on Tuesday, Maurer’s visit to Riyadh “stressed the opportunities for bilateral exchanges and cooperation presented by the Vision 2030 reform programme [a Saudi strategic development plan], particularly in terms of innovation, education and sustainable finance”.

Expo 2020

The delegation also spent time in the UAE and discussed with Emirati officials the automatic exchange of information, a bilateral double taxation agreement, and free-trade ties.

“Questions concerning the rule of law, democracy, human rights, the political situation, and Switzerland’s good offices were raised during talks in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” the government wrote.

In Dubai, Maurer was also presented with the plot of land that’s set to become the site of Switzerland’s pavilion at the Expo 2020 event, to take place in the city-state from October 2020 to April 2021.

The Swiss participation in this global event has also been the topic of media focus over the past few months after it emerged that cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris was sponsoring the pavilion to the tune of CHF1.8 million ($1.8 million).

Under pressure, the foreign ministry eventually dropped its partnership with the American multinational.

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