Iraq and al-Qaeda loom large in Swiss-US dialogue

Pamela Willeford took up her post in November

Ahead of the anniversary of the war in Iraq, swissinfo asked the United States ambassador, Pamela Willeford, if Switzerland had a role to play in the reconstruction.

This content was published on March 8, 2004 minutes

Swiss-US cooperation on tackling terrorism has defined bilateral relations since September 11.

The United States-led invasion of Iraq began on March 20.

Willeford, who took up her posting on November 25, 2003, said Washington welcomed a recent visit by Swiss officials to discuss how Swiss federalism could serve as a model for Iraq.

Switzerland has won plaudits from Washington for its efforts to curb terrorist financing and for sharing intelligence, which led to the arrest in 2002 of a senior al-Qaeda member (see “Swiss phone cards help trace Al-Qaeda”).

But the US has been less enthusiastic about a Swiss-backed peace plan for the Middle East and it remains to be seen whether Swiss firms will have any success in winning contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.

swissinfo: Is Swiss federalism really something that can be transferred to a country like Iraq in rebuilding democracy there?

Pamela Willeford: We welcome Switzerland’s interest in the reconstruction and redevelopment of Iraq.

The Swiss have been very successful in bringing different peoples into one state and it is a wonderful model for democracy.

I believe the Iraqis would view the Swiss example as something to take a close look at. There are lots of models for democracy and the Iraqi people will determine what their particular form of government will look like.

swissinfo: To what extent can Switzerland be involved in the rebuilding of Iraq – in winning US government contracts, for example – given that it was not part of the alliance that went to war and remained neutral throughout?

P.W.: There are certain contracts for which Switzerland cannot be the primary contractor. Those involve monies allocated specifically by the US Congress.

Switzerland can be, and is welcome to be, a sub- or secondary contractor in those specific contracts.

Obviously there are many other awards and contracts that Switzerland can be involved in. Besides the government contracts we are trying to help companies – private companies from all over the world – find ways to participate in economic development in Iraq.

swissinfo: In the international fight against terrorism there seems to have been close cooperation between Switzerland and the US. How is the working group that was set up to coordinate activities progressing and could Switzerland do more?

P.W.: I think there is more that all of us could be doing. We have certainly had good cooperation and help from Switzerland – the government, the banks, law enforcement officials – and we are looking continually for ways to enhance that cooperation.

Certainly an active approach by the Swiss has been important, such as the arrest of the eight individuals in January who are suspected of having some involvement in terrorist actions.

I think that all of us – the Swiss, the US, all the nations of the world – need to keep our focus. We need to be aware that terrorism is out there, that it can happen anywhere, none of us is immune.

swissinfo: Changing subject, what is the US position on the Swiss-backed Geneva Accord, which was officially launched on December 1 last year?

P.W.: Any time there are individuals talking to each other who have ideas or who are interested and can contribute to the peace process, we as the US government are certainly interested in hearing that.

I think that’s borne out by the fact that in January the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, met two of the architects of the Geneva Accord.

We remain committed to the Road Map. President Bush believes firmly that we need to be involved in trying to help find solutions in regional conflicts and of course this is one of the most important.

Some things have to happen for the Road Map to go forward, but as far as the Geneva Accord is concerned, we think that kind of dialogue is very fruitful, helpful and productive.

swissinfo: On a more personal note what did you know about Switzerland before you came here?

P.W.: I knew one of the things that’s well known throughout the world - and that is what a beautiful country this is. I had visited and travelled here in the past and remembered it to be so.

Something that I had read and learned about and have now seen in action is how Switzerland has integrated many ethnic, religious, linguistic and different kinds of groups into a very successful democracy.

swissinfo: Is there anything that has surprised you?

P.W.: I haven’t really been surprised. There is much to learn here, there is a lot going on.

Some people may think that Switzerland is not interesting to the international community and to the US. But that’s not true.

Switzerland’s involvement in the international community has been welcomed by the US, and in particular its full membership of the United Nations.

Switzerland has an important standing in the world. It’s considered to be a country with important values and morals and I think it can play an important role.

One thing that is often lost when we talk about particular policies with which Switzerland may not agree in the US is that we share very basic values; a belief in democracy, human rights, rule of law, spreading peace and prosperity throughout the world, an open society.

I think Switzerland and the US are admired for sharing these important basic values.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

In brief

Pamela Willeford took up her post as US ambassador to Switzerland on November 25, 2003.

She replaced the former ambassador, Mercer Reynolds.

Before coming to Switzerland, Willeford served for eight years on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Willeford has devoted her career to developing education and promoting community service in her home state of Texas.

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