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Schmid talks with Washington on terrorism, human rights

Swiss Minister Samuel Schmid is on the last leg of his American tour Keystone Archive

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid has met with US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to discuss the fight against terrorism.

The two men discussed domestic security issues and signs of progress in the struggle against terrorism, as well as the human rights of prisoners at the Guantanamo base in Cuba.

The meeting, held in Washington, was part of a trip to the United States that also took Schmid to Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Winter Olympic Games are being held, and to New York, where he met with Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General.

Schmid described the talks with Wolfowitz as “congenial”, and emphasised that dealing with terrorism is a “common struggle”. The United States and Switzerland confront similar problems, such as financing the increased security of airports, the defence minister said.

Managing risks

Switzerland is a neutral country, but it does not escape the risk of being a target of fanatics, Schmid said, because it is part of Europe and the western world, and an important part of the world economy.

With regard to managing risks, Switzerland has reinforced its cooperation with the United States since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon near Washington.

The result of Swiss-US cooperation is shown in a report on security that was recently published by the Swiss cabinet. It was based on the conclusions of a working group that was relocated to New York and Washington after the attacks.

To reinforce security, it was decided to put in place a new system of collaboration among the federal and cantonal authorities.

The Schmid visit is not part of a one-way effort to cooperate. Recently, an American delegation travelled to Switzerland to study the possibilities of cooperating in civil defence matters.

However, bilateral cooperation doesn’t necessarily mean total harmony, especially given the current international context. Differences are apparent between the approaches of the American and Swiss governments.

Guantanamo prisoners

For instance, Schmid used the occasion of his meeting with the deputy defence secretary to express his concern about the treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda members currently being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba.

Schmid said he hoped the Pentagon would respect the rights of the prisoners, as outlined by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and urged the US to apply the Geneva Conventions to the prisoners at the Guantanamo base.

Another point of potential friction between Americans and the Swiss: President George Bush’s concept of an “axis of evil”, referring to Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Questioned by swissinfo on the controversy, Schmid said that “each additional military action carries the danger of new destabilisation in the regions.”

“In certain countries, there are massive weapons of destruction which represent a danger,” he said. “Military operations are only one of the aspects of the fight against terrorism that require a global approach,” he said.

“From my personal point of view, (Switzerland) must approve joining the United Nations,” he said, referring to a nationwide vote scheduled for March 3, as a way of improving international security.

By Marie-Christine Bonzom and Denise Kalette

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR