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Trump discusses economic relations and ‘good offices’ with Swiss president

trump and maurer
This is the first visit by a Swiss president to the White House. Keystone / Jim Lo Scalzo

Swiss President Ueli Maurer met with US President Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss trade relations and Switzerland’s role as an intermediary between the US and Iran and Venezuela.

“President Trump expressed his gratitude for Switzerland’s role in facilitating international mediation and diplomatic relations on behalf of the United States,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

At a press conference after the meeting, Maurer said that the meeting was a good conversation in a good atmosphere.

“The USA is seeking cooperation because it has been satisfied with our work in Iran so far,” said Maurer.

Last month Switzerland agreed to represent the interests of the United States in the South American country under a “good offices” agreement. Venezuela has not yet responded to the US request. The Alpine nation has been an intermediary between the US and Iran since 1980 after the cessation of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

However, Maurer said that Iran and Venezuela were not the main subjects of the meeting. President Trump is open to discussion on a free trade agreement, Maurer said. Both countries were committed to reaching a deal faster than the European Union. The Swiss president acknowledged that a free trade agreement was a complex matter and that Switzerland was not at the top of the US list.

“But I sensed that that was what they wanted. I don’t think Mr Trump is concerned about details. But he is positive and I assume that his negotiators will notice that as well,” he said.

On how he found Trump as a person, Maurer told Swiss public television SRFExternal link that the US president had left a good impression, of being open, constructive and curious. “Rather different to what you hear about in the media, I thought,” Maurer said. “You can get along with him.”

Press react

Maurer’s trip was also a topic in the Swiss media on Friday. “Talks between Maurer and Trump are an encouraging political signal, but the path to an agreement is still a long one,” was the title of the Neuer Zürcher Zeitung’s opinion pieceExternal link.

It noted that the biggest sticking point in both countries was still agriculture. And wondered if the US really was that interested in a deal with “small Switzerland”.

Other newspapers focused on the visit itself. “He of all people. Ueli Maurer, who is not really known for his distinct flair for high diplomacy, is now standing in next to the most powerful man in the world…” is how the Tages-Anzeiger’s US correspondentExternal link started his report. Maurer was in the White House for 50 minutes, he wrote. But the fact that the meeting even took place was of significance, said the journalist.

Maurer’s entry in the White House guest bookExternal link also caused some amusement in the media. “Together ahead”, Maurer wrote. Le Matin also pointed toExternal link Maurer’s subsequent “difficult” interview on American news channel CNNExternal link, where he had to field questions on Iran, which he attempted to deflect onto the free trade agreement.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR