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Couchepin's Israel visit focused on science

Pascal Couchepin (right) and Matan Vilnai seal their intent to collaborate on science


Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin has wrapped up a four-day visit to Israel, centred on developing bilateral relations in science.

Accompanying Couchepin was a delegation of Swiss academics, who insisted that any collaboration should include Palestinian researchers.

The group included Olaf Kübler, president of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Urs Altermatt, rector of Fribourg University, Marcel Tanner, head of the Swiss Tropical Institute and Michel Aguet, director of the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research.

Earlier in the trip, Couchepin and his Israeli counterpart, Matan Vilnai, signed a declaration of intent to strengthen scientific cooperation between the two countries.

"Israel is an extraordinary country when it comes to science," said Couchepin.

Tanner, however, warned against leaving Palestinians out of the equation.

"It is imperative to maintain a coherence between the political position of Switzerland and the cooperation strategy in research," said Tanner.

If this was not done, he feared that Switzerland risked "losing... its credibility".

Fellow delegate Altermatt judged Palestinian involvement as "morally indispensable".

Both called for tri-party meetings, bringing together Israeli, Palestinian and Swiss scientists.

Altermatt said that these gatherings should take place in Switzerland because the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians made day-to-day cooperation on the ground difficult.

Don't mix

For his part, Couchepin welcomed efforts to include Palestinians. But he warned against bringing politics into everything.

"This is a scientific accord - you can't mix everything, because, if you do, you end up with bad science and bad politics," he said.

During his trip, Couchepin only held meetings with high-ranking Israeli officials.

One such contact was with the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, also the minister for trade, industry and finance.

Olmert called on Swiss companies, especially pharmaceutical ones, to invest more in Israel.

Such calls are likely to be followed up when Economics Minister Joseph Deiss visits Israel at the beginning of next year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin was in Israel from September 15-18.

On his first day, he signed a declaration of intent with Israeli counterpart Matan Vilnai on strengthening bilateral relations in science.

Couchepin was accompanied by a delegation of Swiss academics, who called for Palestinian scientists to be included in any collaboration.

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