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Deiss begins Middle East tour

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has arrived in Egypt at the start of a nine-day tour of the Middle East, which will also take him to Syria and Lebanon. It's the first official visit to these countries by a Swiss foreign minister since 1985.

This content was published on February 24, 2000 - 23:40

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has arrived in Egypt at the start of a nine-day tour of the Middle East, which will also take him to Syria and Lebanon. It's the first official visit to these countries by a Swiss foreign minister since 1985.

Deiss arrived in Cairo several hours later than scheduled, because of a technical fault with his aeroplane at Zurich airport.

During his trip, Deiss is expected to meet the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, Syria's head of state, Hafez al Assad, and the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud. He will also hold talks with the foreign ministers of all three countries.

Deiss will be accompanied on his tour by an offical delegation made up of representatives of the federal authorities, parliamentarians, Swiss business leaders and journalists.

The main purpose of the trip is to give a shot in the arm to bilateral relations between Switzerland and the three countries. However, there will also be discussions focusing on Switzerland's role in the Middle East peace process, and on the plight of Palestinian refugees in the region.

No fewer than 45 countries are participating in the peace process, which was relaunched after a two-year hiatus last month. Unlike the United States and Russia, Switzerland is not involved in solving the major political questions.

It is responsible instead for issues related to the "human dimension", preparing proposals aimed at fostering understanding between cultures and respect for human rights.

Deiss's main task in Egypt will be to repair relations with Cairo, which were damaged after the November 1997 Luxor massacre, in which 36 Swiss tourists were killed by Islamic militants. Switzerland would like to see Egypt compensate the victims, something Cairo has been wary of doing, for fear of creating a precedent.

Deiss plans to make a private visit to the scene of the shootings, to pay homage to the victims.

While in Syria, Deiss is expected to discuss ways of improving the lukewarm relationship between Berne and Damascus. He is also likely to discuss the stalled peace talks with Israel, and is scheduled to visit Swiss observers monitoring the ceasefire in the Golan Heights.

In Lebanon, as well as meeting with General Lahoud, Deiss is expected to sign a bilateral agreement on the protection and promotion of investments. He also plans to visit a number of Swiss-sponsored projects in the region which are aimed at promoting human rights and cultral pluralism.

From staff and wire reports

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