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Calmy-Rey repeats call for stronger US ties

Micheline Calmy-Rey says Switzerland has plenty to discuss with the US Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has called once again for a closer relationship with the United States.

This content was published on March 2, 2006 - 22:01

Calmy-Rey said though that there remained a number of issues on which Switzerland and Washington did not see eye-to-eye, in particular human rights.

The foreign minister, in a speech delivered to the Swiss Friends of the USA association in Zurich on Thursday, admitted that a mooted free trade agreement between the two countries was no longer on the cards.

Negotiations failed in particular over agricultural subsidies.

But she added that she hoped a memorandum of understanding would be signed in the coming weeks to "consolidate collaboration" in other sectors.

Calmy-Rey said that despite wanting closer ties with the US, the European Union would remain Switzerland's main partner. She added that this policy did not contradict plans to seek better relationships with parties such as China, southeastern Europe or Latin America.

Different values

The foreign minister said improving bilateral relations with the US was possible despite the differences.

Both countries, she added, often spoke of the "same values, but gave these values different meanings", especially when human rights, democracy and the economy were concerned.

Switzerland has for example been backing calls by Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, for the US to end alleged human rights abuses at its Guantanamo base in Cuba.

The US authorities have been accused by non-governmental organisations of depriving around 500 so-called "enemy combatants" of their basic rights, including protection given to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. These men have been detained on the base as part of the "war on terror".

Calmy-Rey also called on the US to back the creation of a new UN Human Rights Council, which is slated to replace a much-decried commission accused of letting the worst offenders off the hook.

On Monday, US ambassador to the UN John Bolton described a draft resolution unveiled last week as unacceptable. He wants tougher mechanisms for keeping countries with poor human rights records off the council, which would be based in Geneva.

Switzerland has warned it is not in favour of reopening negotiations over the council.

The foreign minister said in Zurich that the draft resolution was a "good compromise" solution. She added that Washington should "recognise the value of a new human rights council."

Secret flights

Calmy-Rey also reiterated concerns over claims that suspected terrorists were flown through Swiss airspace or landed at Swiss airports on CIA flights en route to secret prisons in eastern Europe.

Washington recently said that this had not been the case, but the federal prosecutor's office is still investigating the claims. Swiss senator Dick Marty is also looking into the secret prisons affair for the Council of Europe.

The foreign minister said the US and Switzerland needed to overcome their conceptual differences on the relationship between the state and individuals, making compromises and implementing multilateral diplomacy.

"The United States needs partners," she added.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland and the US have had diplomatic relations since 1850.

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran (since 1980) and in Cuba (since 1961); it has also represented Cuban interests in the US since 1991.

Swiss-US cooperation consists of numerous bilateral treaties and arrangements, in fields such as double taxation and mutual assistance in criminal matters.

The Swiss-US Joint Economic Commission, established in 2000, works to strengthen the bilateral partnership and promote stability in the global economy.

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Key facts

In 2004, Swiss exports of goods and services to the US totalled SFr14.2 billion ($10.95 billion).
The US market accounts for 10% of all Swiss exports, making it the second most important market after Germany (20.6%).
In 2004, imports of US goods and services totalled SFr5.7 billion.

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