Deiss travels to Syria on Middle East tour

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is travelling to Syria today, on the second leg of a nine-day tour of the Middle East. In Damascus, Deiss will meet the president, Hafez al-Assad, and the foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara.

This content was published on February 29, 2000 - 09:13

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is travelling to Syria today, on the second leg of a nine-day tour of the Middle East. In Damascus, Deiss will meet the president, Hafez al-Assad, and the foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara.

They will discuss how to improve lukewarm relationship between Switzerland and Syria. Talks are also expected to focus on the stalled peace talks with Israel, and on Switzerland's role in the Middle East peace process.

Switzerland is among no fewer than 45 countries 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.

While in Syria, Deiss is also scheduled to visit Swiss observers at Quneitra, in the Golan Heights, where they are monitoring the ceasefire.

After Syria, Deiss will travel on to Lebanon where, as well as meeting the president, Emile Lahoud, he will 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 cultural pluralism.

Deiss has already spent four days in Egypt. The visit laid to rest a dispute over the Luxor massacre in 1997, in which 36 Swiss tourists were killed. Deiss made a private trip to the resort city of Luxor on Monday, where he laid a wreath in memory of those who died.

The massacre, and the question of compensation for its victims, were among the issues raised by Deiss in talks with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and his own counterpart, Amr Moussa, at the weekend. Following the talks, Deiss and Moussa both indicated that the tragedy would never be forgotten, but stressed that a new chapter had opened in relations between the two countries.

On the compensation question, Deiss pointed out that payments to victims had been discussed in the past, and Egypt had been "unable" to make any commitments. As a result, Deiss said, "this cash question is now settled".

Deiss' visit is the first official trip by a Swiss foreign minister to the three countries since 1985. He is accompanied by federal officials, parliamentarians and Swiss business leaders.

From staff and wire reports

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