Switzerland is set to raise its profile abroad, particularly in the United States and Britain, as it seeks to offset the damage to its image caused by the controversy over Holocaust era assets.
Officials said after an inaugural meeting in Bern on Tuesday of the executive commission of Presence Switzerland - a new government-financed body designed to promote Switzerland abroad - that Britain would join the United States as a priority nation.
A third "target" nation will be chosen by the middle of 2001. The chief executive of Presence Switzerland, Johannes Matyassy, said the country in question could be India or Brazil, but no decision had been made.
The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, stressed the importance of Presence Switzerland in ensuring greater knowledge abroad of Switzerland and its diverse characteristics. The new organisation will have a budget of over SFr11 million next year.
Switzerland's image in the US is good but could still be improved, according to a survey commissioned by the organisation, which canvassed the opinions of members of Congress, media workers and the public.
Switzerland enjoys a reputation as "an enjoyable place to visit", is politically stable, has a high quality of life, and "cares for a sound environment", according to the views canvassed in the study.
But the Americans showed much less awareness of Switzerland's policy of support for humanitarian issues or the fact that the people have a large say in determining government policy. Officials said there would have to be more emphasis on ensuring these strengths in Switzerland were more widely known.
There is greater general knowledge in the US of Switzerland than a comparable European country, such as the Netherlands, the survey showed.
But opinion leaders, in particular, are highly aware of specific issues in Switzerland, including the dormant bank accounts from the Holocaust era and banking secrecy.
Presence Switzerland will also try to ensure that the modern, as well as traditional aspects of the country, become better known, said the organisation's president, Paul Reutlinger.
"I think we should show the different facets of our country. This is the strength of our country - different cultures, different languages - and I think we have a lot of traditional, very good things which we can show and should continue to show but we should also talk about the new, modern Switzerland where we have very important things in the high-tech field."
swissinfo with agencies