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Politicians take mixed stance after US trip

The Swiss delegation was received at the UN headquarters in New York

(Keystone)

A parliamentary foreign affairs committee, which has just wrapped up a trip to the United States, says Swiss interests are well represented in the country.

But some members found there were "deficiencies" at the United Nations in New York, while others raised concerns over the US attitude to fighting terrorism.

During the trip, which wrapped up on Friday, the committee visited the UN in New York and then met US and international organisation officials in Washington.

"Our principal aim was to observe and learn, not to criticise," Luzi Stamm, the president of the House of Representatives committee, told swissinfo.

Stamm said that overall the eight-member delegation of parliamentarians were convinced that Swiss interests were well represented in the United States.

The failure of negotiations on a Swiss-US free trade accord – which stumbled earlier this year over differences on the controversial issue of agriculture – had not appeared to harm relations, he added.

The committee – whose mandate covers relations with international organisations - met UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN's New York headquarters on Wednesday. It later held talks with top officials at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Deficiencies

Despite the praise for Swiss work at the UN, Stamm said there were still "great deficiencies" at the world body. His colleague and fellow rightwing Swiss People's Party member Ulrich Schlüer went further, pointing to "too much bureaucracy" at the UN, IMF and World Bank.

Most members agreed the IMF posed the most problems of the three organisations because it was suffering from a lack of financial resources.

At the US Department of State in Washington the committee held talks on the fight against terrorism.

According to Schlüer, US officials said they would appreciate more Swiss participation in international peace forces. This included the multinational security force in Afghanistan, where currently four Swiss officers are stationed.

Schlüer said the committee had explained that neutral Switzerland's laws did not allow for Swiss military participation in a deployment in a country where peace had not yet been clearly established.

Remo Gysin, of the centre-left Social Democrats, said that several members of the delegation had criticised that US involvement in the Swift affair - in which international banking transaction details, including those from Switzerland, were revealed to the United States.

Anti-terrorism law

They also raised concerns over the treatment of prisoners at the US military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as the new US anti-terrorism law, he said.

The legislation, signed by President Bush earlier this week, allows for tough CIA interrogation techniques and military trials for terrorism suspects.

It has caused some controversy. On Thursday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed its concerns at the law, saying there were questions over its compliance with the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war.

For Gysin, the legislation puts security issues over human rights and makes it more difficult for the allies of the US by creating a "grey zone".

Party colleague Mario Fehr was, however, quick to point out that the Swiss-US relationship was strong enough to sustain such discussions.

"Relations are good enough that we can discuss with the US problems such as Guantanamo," he said.

swissinfo

The visit

The eight members of the committee were first received by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York.

In Washington they met the director general of the International Monetary Funds Rodrigo de Rato and top World Bank official Juan José Daboub.

At the US Department of State in Washington they held talks with Patrick Moon, director of the Office of Austrian, German and Swiss affairs and Mark Norman, a top counter-terrorism official.

The committee also visited the US Congress, where among others, they met Democrat deputy Tammy Baldwin who is co-president of the Friends of Switzerland Caucus.

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