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Swiss outline UN priorities

Switzerland plans to focus its energy on human rights, development and peace initiatives

(Keystone)

The cabinet has outlined Switzerland's key priorities ahead of the country's expected accession to the United Nations.

The government is accelerating preparations for membership ahead of September 10, when it is expected to address the UN General Assembly for the first time as a member. Swiss voters approved joining the world body last March.

The cabinet said on Wednesday that it would focus Switzerland's resources within the UN on three areas - peace initiatives, security and development.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, told swissinfo that Switzerland would use its membership of the UN as a new tool in its foreign policy armoury, both to boost its international credibility and to pursue its interests.

Focus on the Balkans and Middle East

Specific objectives include a focus on the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan, where the UN is working to increase political and economic stability.

Deiss said Switzerland also wants to boost its participation in humanitarian observer missions in crisis zones, and support efforts to reverse the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Other priorities include participation in UN development programmes and on children's rights and improving cooperation and coordination between UN's development agencies and the World Bank.

Deiss said Switzerland's medium-term goal included joining bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, where membership is based on a rotational system and requires the support of neighbouring countries.

Fears over Swiss neutrality

The implications of UN membership remain sensitive in Switzerland, where alliances with other countries are often seen as a threat to the country's much-valued neutrality.

Concerns about neutrality were at the centre of Swiss arguments against UN membership at the country's March vote on the subject.

But Deiss said the Swiss president, Kaspar Villiger, would re-emphasise the country's neutrality during Switzerland's first address to the UN.

"We will have our independent policy in the UN; this is a clear case," Deiss said.

"On the other hand, it will be necessary to find suitable partners, and there we have to see that European Union countries are among those that are closest to our own positions."

"Also when it comes to membership of commissions and other bodies of the UN, you need countries who support your candidates. So it will be important that we have frequent discussions with our partners in the EU."

Deiss indicated that Switzerland would pursue alliances on UN matters with neighbouring countries, regional groupings, as well as the EU.

"The first result is that we will become able to represent better our own images. I hope always that it will give us the opportunity to promote those values that are important to our foreign policy in general; peace, democracy, human rights, and humanitarian law."

Deiss said Switzerland would participate in the debate on reforming the Security Council, but said it would not propose the abolition of the veto right of super powers - as is being demanded by Switzerland's right-wing People's Party.

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