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Swiss offer to host talks between US and Iraq

Micheline Calmy-Rey and Colin Powell in Davos on Saturday Keystone

Switzerland has offered to host last-ditch talks between the United States and Iraq to avert the threat of war.

This content was published on January 25, 2003 - 17:49

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, made the proposition during a meeting on Saturday with the US secretary of state, Colin Powell.

During their half-hour meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos, Calmy-Rey urged Powell to be mindful of the humanitarian catastrophe that would follow any military action in Iraq.

"Everyone talks a great deal about oil and sanctions, but Switzerland is concerned above all with people," said Calmy-Rey. "I urged him to consider the consequences of a war."

The new Swiss foreign minister said Powell had assured her that Washington would do everything in its power to avoid conflict.

Powell later played down the idea of Switzerland hosting talks, denying there had been a formal offer.

In January 1991, Geneva held - ultimately unsuccessful - talks between the US and Iraq, shortly before the Gulf War.

Peace

Calmy-Rey said she had taken the opportunity to reiterate the position of the Swiss government, stressing that all peaceful means to disarm Baghdad should be sought before resorting to armed conflict.

She added that military action would only be justified under a new United Nations resolution.

Calmy-Rey said she had impressed upon Powell the need to respect the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of civilians, injured soldiers and prisoners of war.

"Even if Switzerland is a small country, we have a duty to do what we can to avert war and a humanitarian catastrophe," she said.

The Swiss foreign minister also held talks in Davos with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Chemical weapons

Powell, who is scheduled to make a speech on Sunday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, earlier warned the international community not to retreat from its responsibility to disarm Iraq.

"We cannot now start shrinking because the going is getting tough," he declared.

"The burden is on Iraq. Iraq must comply [with resolution 1441] or it will be made to comply by military force."

Powell recalled that Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration did not account for biological and chemical agents, chemical shells and nuclear documents.

United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq are due on Monday to present their first full report to the Security Council.

Powell, who is looking to drum up support in Davos, said the US had the backing of at least a dozen nations should it decide to attack Iraq without a new UN resolution.

The US secretary of state held an "extensive discussion" with the Turkish prime minister, Abdullah Gull, to discuss the use of Turkish bases for a possible attack on Iraq.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber and agencies

In brief

The World Economic Forum's annual summit opened this week in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos.

The focus of the sessions so far has been on a war with Iraq and the fight against terrorism, rather than on economic issues.

The issue topped the agenda during Saturday's meeting between the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and the US secretary of state, Colin Powell.

Switzerland has offered to host talks between Iraq and the US, while urging Washington to respect the Geneva Conventions in the event of conflict.

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