The government says Swiss membership of the United Nations is necessary. Launching a new effort to speed up the process, the government said membership would make it easier for Switzerland to defend its interests worldwide.
It said the goals of the UN were the same as those of Switzerland's foreign policy, and that membership would have no impact on Switzerland's centuries-old neutrality. The government added that current estimates put the additional cost of UN membership at SFr50-60 million per year.
The statements were made on Thursday at the start of a wide-ranging process of consultation on the issue with all parties concerned. From now until the beginning of October, the government will canvas the opinions of the cantons, political parties, businesses and other organisations.
Supporters of UN membership have already collected enough signatures to force a nationwide referendum on the issue, but it is not yet known when the vote will be held.
On Saturday, the Swiss president Adolf Ogi, told the visiting UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, that the government hoped it would be in a position to present its project to parliament later this year. If accepted by both houses, Ogi said a vote could take place as early as 2002.
The Swiss people rejected UN membership by an overwhelming majority in a referendum in 1986.
Full report to follow
swissinfo with agencies