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Delegation hails successful visit to Turkey

Peter Briner says the visit has helped to improve Swiss-Turkish relations

(Keystone)

A delegation of Swiss parliamentarians has wound up a visit to Turkey following meetings with the country’s leaders and opposition figures.

Peter Briner, the head of the group, told swissinfo that there was nothing now to prevent foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey from visiting Ankara.

Calmy-Rey and the foreign affairs committee delegation had been due to make scheduled trips to Turkey last year, but these were called off at short notice.

Turkey was angered when two Swiss cantonal parliaments officially recognised as genocide the 1915 killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Turkey. The federal parliament followed suit last December.

But Briner said that Turkey now had “no bad feelings” towards Switzerland.

swissinfo: How successful has the visit been?

Peter Briner: I think it has been a very successful trip. Our objective was to get acquainted with Turkey and to meet parliamentary colleagues of the foreign policy committee, because if we want to understand each other we first have to get to know each other.

We met with open doors and an extraordinary hospitality from our Turkish friends.

swissinfo: You met Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. What subjects did you discuss with him?

P.B.: We discussed mutual cooperation. There is a lot of cooperation in business, in culture and in technology. They [our Turkish partners] stressed their wish to strengthen our business relationship.

On our side we had problems to be resolved too. It seems that Turkish customs discriminate against Swiss imports due to European Union certification, even though we have a free trade agreement with Turkey and with the EU. We are discussing this problem at various levels and I’m hopeful that it can be resolved.

swissinfo: Did you raise the issue of human rights?

P.B.: We did mention human rights. We also met a small delegation of opposition leaders led by [Kurdish human rights activist] Leyla Zana.

She said she wants to see a stable Turkey living in peace, democracy and justice. She therefore welcomes the focus on reform due to [Turkey’s application for] membership of the European Union.

She is encouraged, but of course she would like to speed things up. She will fight with democratic means, we hope, because violence is no way to reach goals. We stressed the fact that democracy can be reached only through legal means.

swissinfo: A year ago you wanted to go to Turkey and weren’t able to. In the meantime relations between Bern and Ankara appear to have improved. How would you describe them now?

P.B.: We have a very open, friendly relationship. We discussed the disagreements which made us postpone our trip. We explained things in Switzerland, and finally I think we did finish that discussion to the satisfaction of both sides.

swissinfo: Do you think that your visit might pave the way for Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to visit Turkey finally?

P.B.: Yes, absolutely. Foreign Minister Gül said there were no obstacles whatsoever to a visit by Calmy-Rey, and that the chiefs of protocol would try to find a suitable date. There is no bad feeling left whatsoever.

swissinfo-interview: Morven McLean

Key facts

September 2003 – Ankara withdraws invitation to Swiss foreign minister to visit.
In the same month, a parliamentary committee announces it is postponing a planned visit to Turkey.
December 2003 – Swiss parliament votes to officially recognise as genocide the killing of Armenians in 1915.
August 2004 – Parliamentary committee says “improved bilateral relations” make the trip possible.

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