Deiss in Washington for talks with Bush administration

Joseph Deiss is expected to focus on the Middle East in his talks with Powell Keystone Archive

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is on Monday due to hold talks in Washington with the US secretary of state, Colin Powell. The discussions are expected to focus on bilateral relations, as well as the situation in the Middle East.

This content was published on April 9, 2001 - 12:12

The meeting is the first official contact between the Swiss government and the Bush administration. Deiss is expected to reiterate the Swiss government's offer to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians to help them achieve a peace settlement.

There has also been speculation that Deiss might raise the issue of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, following President Bush's recent announcement that the US does not intend to honour the previous administration's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The meeting comes at a time of improved bilateral relations between the two countries, following the signing of a $1.25 billion (SFr2.11 billion) settlement between Swiss banks and the World Jewish Congress over Holocaust-era assets.

The accord, which was signed in 1998, brought to an end three years of difficult negotiations and was intended to settle the claims of Holocaust survivors who held assets in Switzerland during the Second World War.

The settlement also ended all claims against the Swiss National Bank and all other Swiss commercial banks.

Another issue which may be touched on at Monday's talks is the decision by former US president, Bill Clinton, to pardon fugitive commodity trader, Marc Rich, who lives in Switzerland. Clinton issued the pardon just before he left office in January, sparking a congressional investigation.

Belgian-born Rich fled the US in 1983 just before he was indicted for tax evasion of more than $48 million and for circumventing US oil price restrictions.

Rich's ex-wife, Denise, was said to have contributed more than $500,000 to Democratic Party funds over a two-year period. Speculation that she had "bought" her ex-husband's pardon could not be substantiated because she asserted her privilege under the fifth amendment of the constitution not to be a witness against herself.

A second issue that could have potentially strained Swiss/US relations was the Geneva authorities' request for the extradition of former Kremlin aide, Pavel Borodin, on charges of money laundering.

The US was spared having to be an arbiter in the request when Borodin last week said he would not contest the extradition demand. He arrived in Switzerland on Saturday.

Deiss's visit coincides with strengthening economic ties with the US. Swiss exports in 1999 rose by 18.8 per cent in value terms to a record SFr14.7 billion; imports were virtually unchanged at SFr7.7 billion.

Following the arrival of President Bush at the White House, the state department confirmed the nomination of businessman Mercer Reynolds as the new US ambassador to Switzerland. If confirmed by the Senate, Reynolds will succeed Ambassador J. Richard Fredericks.

The Swiss government earlier named Christian Blickenstorfer to succeed Ambassador Alfred Defago in Washington.

swissinfo with agencies

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