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Diplomat urges caution about Obama presidency

Barack Obama shakes hands with celebrities including Shakira in front of the Lincoln Memorial Keystone

The Swiss ambassador to Washington, Urs Ziswiler, will be in attendance at the swearing in ceremony of Barack Obama on Tuesday.

In this interview with the Swiss News Agency, Ziswiler outlines the challenges facing the 44th president of the United States.

SNA: It’s expected to be very cold in Washington during the ceremony. Do you think you’ll hold out in the freezing temperatures along with Obama?

Urs Ziswiler: Certainly, I’m looking forward to this historic day. Such a large event has never been seen before.

SNA: Have you already had an opportunity to congratulate Obama?

U. Z.: I’ve only met him once – before the vote – when we briefly shook hands. But we have used the past few months to make contact with people who will play a role in the new government.

Three thousand civil servants in the entire administration will be replaced so a new network has to be built up.

SNA: Do you already know some of these new people?

U. Z.: I’m looking forward to working together with people such as the designated Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who has good contacts with Switzerland – or with Dennis Ross, the future advisor to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. I know him from my time in the Middle East.

SNA: What do you see as the issues straining Swiss-American relations?

U. Z.: There is a lot of work to do as far as the economy is concerned and in financial aspects. Many fear that more pressure will be placed on Switzerland in these areas. Democrats as well as Republicans are pushing to see that all the tax money owed to the US is returned.

SNA: Will the people in Obama’s administration take a different course than those in Bush’s government?

U. Z.: Yes, mainly in foreign policy. Obama has announced that he will not be afraid of direct contact with governments Bush refused to speak to. Switzerland represents the interests of the US in Iran and Cuba – two of the states Bush avoided.

It is also Obama’s declared goal to close the prison at Guantanamo. Switzerland has an interest in this issue since it is the depository state of the human rights’ convention.

SNA: The expectations placed in Obama are very high. Can he meet them?

U. Z.: It will hardly be possible to move forward quickly in every area, as is hoped. But Obama has the ability to admit when something isn’t working, and he knows how to explain that in public. This was not a strength of George W. Bush.

SNA: Have plans already been made for a visit of the president or the secretary of state to Switzerland?

U. Z.: No date has been agreed but we hope that Obama or Clinton will take part in an international conference in Geneva.

SNA: The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos is also a good opportunity for high-ranking politicians to meet.

U. Z.: Yes, although this year’s date at the end of January is not ideal for making contacts with American politicians.

The new government representatives must first, one after the other, be confirmed in their posts. However, Obama’s economic advisor Larry Summers and senators Chris Dodd and Barney Frank are expected to be in Davos.

Swiss News Agency, Roman Elsener in New York

At least one million people are expected to view the inauguration from Washington’s National Mall. 5,000 portable toilets will be set up for the huge crowd.

Hundreds of thousands of additional spectators will pack Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the inaugural parade. The record was set during the 1965 inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson, when 1.2 million people attended.

240,000 tickets have been distributed, free of charge, for the swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill.

Some online ticket brokers are selling seats for more than $8,000.

Temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing for the event.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR