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Swiss ministers hold top-level meetings in Davos

The United States vice president, Dick Cheney (left) with the Swiss President, Joseph Deiss Keystone

Swiss ministers have used the World Economic Forum summit in Davos for a series of high-level talks with world leaders.

On Saturday, the Swiss president held meetings with the United States vice president Dick Cheney and the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Deiss said he used his 30-minute talk with Cheney to lobby on behalf of Swiss firms competing for lucrative contracts for the re-construction of Iraq.

Although Deiss said Cheney made it clear that Swiss firms would not get any priority, their participation was not out of the question.

“From the American point-of-view, there is room for every useful form of participation [by Swiss firms in Iraq],” Deiss said.

Deiss also said he – along with the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey – had an “extensive talk” with Erdogan.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the WEF summit, Deiss said he and Calmy-Rey had relayed to Erdogan details of a recent vote by the Swiss parliament, which recognized the 1915 genocide of Armenians.

And while the Swiss president said there were still outstanding questions between Switzerland and Turkey, a certain easing of tensions between the two countries appeared likely.

Erdogan renewed an invitation, cancelled last year, for Calmy-Rey to visit Turkey. The Turkish government withdrew an earlier invitation in protest against the Swiss parliament’s vote.

Flurry of meetings

Swiss cabinet ministers in Davos this week have held more than 10 bilateral meetings with presidents, prime ministers or Kings, as well as with several ministers.

Deiss described the meetings, which had taken advantage of the fact that so many of the world’s leaders had gathered in Davos for the WEF summit, as “interesting, lively and fruitful”.

In particular, there were key talks with the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland – countries which promised to support Switzerland’s efforts to conclude the current round of bilateral negotiations with the European Union.

In return, Deiss said it had been made clear to him that Switzerland could not conduct a piece-meal approach to Europe.

Cheney speech

Saturday also saw the highlight of this year’s five-day WEF forum, the much-anticipated arrival of Cheney in Switzerland on what is only his second trip outside the US since the Bush administration took office three years ago.

Cheney used a speech at the summit to issue a fresh call for unity in the “war against terror”.

Delivering a message largely aimed at restoring transatlantic relations frayed by disagreements over the Iraq war, Cheney said promoting democracy in the Arab world was a top priority.

“We must confront the ideologies of violence at the source, by promoting democracy throughout the greater Middle East and beyond,” Cheney said.

This year’s forum has been dominated by debates about the real impact of the Bush administration’s foreign policies.

And by dispatching to Davos the most senior US administration figure other than the president, the White House hoped to send a signal about America’s determination to work with Europe.

He also emphasised America’s use of non-military means of combating terrorism.

“Violence against violent men”

However, Cheney did not shy away from defending American use of violence in Iraq and elsewhere, saying that, if the US had not acted, Saddam Hussein would still be “defying the United Nations and making a mockery of its mission”.

The world’s democracies must send an “unmistakable message” that “the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction only invites isolation and carries great costs,” he said.

“And at that point we must show that behind our resolution there is actual resolve. As president Bush has said: our people have given us the duty to defend them.

“And that duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men.”

swissinfo, Jacob Greber in Davos

The US vice president, Dick Cheney, said Swiss companies could play a role in the rebuilding of Iraq.

It was Cheney’s second official trip outside the US after the Bush administration came to power three years ago.

Meanwhile, the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, renewed an invitation to the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to visit Turkey.

Anti-WEF protesters clashed with police at Landquart, near Davos. Police used tear gas to try to disperse the crowds.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR