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Swiss envoy warns of anti-American sentiment

Ambassador Ziswiler doesn't feel there will be immediate changes after the US presidential election

Switzerland's ambassador to Washington, Urs Ziswiler, says he is concerned by the anti-American attitude of the Swiss.

This content was published on September 9, 2008 - 21:36

He told swissinfo after a Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce meeting in Lugano that there was a trend to simplify the realities of the United States.

Ziswiler said he did not expect any great changes for Switzerland after the US presidential election, adding that despite a few minor problems with Washington, Switzerland enjoyed an "excellent" reputation there.

swissinfo: You have criticised anti-Americanism shown by the Swiss on several occasions. How could the election of either Barack Obama or John McCain change this mindset?

Urs Ziswiler: This anti-Americanism worries me. Reducing the facts to the equation: The US = George W. Bush = Irak does not correspond to the American reality.

The future president will have to change this cliché, otherwise the country is not going to get very far. Europeans expect this change from Obama more than from his rival McCain. But let's wait and be surprised...

A week in US political life is a very long time and two months are almost an eternity. McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin as his running mate or the government takeover of home loans companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are proof of that.

swissinfo: While we're on the subject of the economy, what upsets can we expect after the election?

U.Z.: In terms of the economy none of the candidates in the race to the White House is in a position to make any great change. We know that Obama wants a strengthening of the role of the state and therefore an increase in fiscal pressure, contrary to McCain. The fact remains that it was a Republican administration that made the spectacular decision regarding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it's important to remember that.

We shouldn't therefore expect any major upsets when the winner has taken over power. Whether it is Obama or McCain, it will change nothing. The economic health of the country is the result of a situation and events that neither candidate has had an influence on. Even if in the short term the Swiss economy could take advantage of the election of the senator from Arizona [McCain] that positive effect would not last very long.

swissinfo: The media coverage on the losses at Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, has abated somewhat. What feelings are there today about Switzerland as a financial centre?

U.Z.: Switzerland's reputation is and remains excellent in the US. We should not forget that the losses at UBS were followed in particular by a certain elite. And only the specialised newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times spoke about them.

We should note that the story was hardly mentioned by CNN or FOXnews and therefore the average American doesn't even know about them. But it is true that this kind of episode doesn't help us preserve the perception of a country that is dependable and predictable for the players in the finance world.

swissinfo: In Europe, Obama has benefited from a more favourable media coverage than his rival. How do you explain this difference in treatment?

U.Z.: That can be explained no doubt by the fact that for a large section of the population the Democrat [candidate] epitomizes change. But you have to beware. People risk being disappointed and frustrated. Even Obama will not be able to accelerate reforms and fulfil the expectations, which are from both sides of the Atlantic and in particular from Switzerland.

If Obama were to be elected – but it's far too early to say – change will take time. Let's not forget that Congress is very powerful in the American system and both candidates will have to submit to this reality and work with the two chambers.

swissinfo: In your capacity as ambassador, don't you have the feeling that the aura surrounding Switzerland is almost impossible to destroy?

U.Z.: There is no guarantee that it will last forever. Nevertheless our political and economic relations in particular are indeed excellent. The fact that the US asked Switzerland to represent its interests in Iran and Cuba illustrates the amount of confidence they place in us.

But there are setbacks, such as with UBS or other episodes. But on the whole, these events are rather well accepted.

You have to note that Switzerland is one of the main investors in the US. Nearly 500 Swiss companies have created more than half a million jobs there. In that sense, Switzerland is, if I dare say it, a real heavyweight in the US.

swissinfo: You mentioned Iran a moment ago. How do you think the work of Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey is judged by the American authorities?

U.Z.: To be honest, the Americans were not delighted by Calmy-Rey's visit to Iran. And that has nothing to do with the so-called "veil" affair [Calmy-Rey wore a veil in her meeting with the Iranian president]. As Switzerland represents US interests, they wanted to know whether this visit was compatible with our mandate.

In the meantime, things have improved and our mandate has been confirmed.

swissinfo-interview: Nicole della Pietra in Lugano

Urs Ziswiler Biography

Before his nomination to the post in Washington, Ziswiler was head of the Swiss foreign ministry's political division IV, which deals with human rights and humanitarian policies.

After that he was chief diplomatic adviser to Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Ziswiler has held several posts abroad, including as Swiss ambassador to Canada and the Bahamas, with residence in Ottawa (1999-2004).

Born in 1949 in canton Aargau, Ziswiler began his career as an expert at the World Bank before joining the International Committee of the Red Cross as a delegate, with posts in Beirut, Gaza, Tel Aviv and Kampala.

A citizen of Muri in canton Lucerne, Ziswiler is married with two children.

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