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Swiss urge Bush to honour Kyoto Protocol

Joseph Deiss will convey Switzerland's concerns about the US decision to dump the Kyoto Protocol Keystone Archive

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is to urge the Bush administration to honour its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Deiss will present a letter to that effect to the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, during talks on Monday.

The Swiss government is using Deiss’s visit – its first official contact with the new US administration – to convey Switzerland’s concerns about President Bush’s recent decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

In the letter to Bush, the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, urges the president to “reconsider your position and… continue cooperation within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol”.

The letter comes after Bush indicated that the US was not prepared to weather the financial consequences involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as stipulated by the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by the previous Clinton administration.

Leuenberger argues that climate change is now known to pose “a real risk for the well-being of our planet”. He adds that “Mitigation efforts are needed” and that the Kyoto Protocol is the most “appropriate way to address this challenge at a global level”.

During his talks with Powell, Deiss is also expected to focus on bilateral relations and discuss the situation in the Middle East. The Swiss government has made it clear on several occasions that it is ready to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians to help them achieve a peace settlement.

The meeting comes at a time of improved bilateral relations between the two countries, following the signing of a $1.25 billion (SFr2.11 billion) settlement between Swiss banks and the World Jewish Congress over Holocaust-era assets.

The accord, which was signed in 1998, brought to an end three years of difficult negotiations and was intended to settle the claims of Holocaust survivors who held assets in Switzerland during the Second World War.

The settlement also ended all claims against the Swiss National Bank and all other Swiss commercial banks.

Another issue which may be touched on at Monday’s talks is the decision by former US president, Bill Clinton, to pardon fugitive commodity trader, Marc Rich, who lives in Switzerland. Clinton issued the pardon just before he left office in January, sparking a congressional investigation.

Belgian-born Rich fled the US in 1983 just before he was indicted for tax evasion of more than $48 million and for circumventing US oil price restrictions.

Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, was said to have contributed more than $500,000 to Democratic Party funds over a two-year period. Speculation that she had “bought” her ex-husband’s pardon could not be substantiated because she asserted her privilege under the fifth amendment of the constitution not to be a witness against herself.

A second issue that could have potentially strained Swiss/US relations was the Geneva authorities’ request for the extradition of former Kremlin aide, Pavel Borodin, on charges of money laundering.

The US was spared having to be an arbiter in the request when Borodin last week said he would not contest the extradition demand. He arrived in Switzerland on Saturday.

Deiss’s visit coincides with strengthening economic ties with the US. Swiss exports in 1999 rose by 18.8 per cent in value terms to a record SFr14.7 billion; imports were virtually unchanged at SFr7.7 billion.

Following the arrival of President Bush at the White House, the state department confirmed the nomination of businessman Mercer Reynolds as the new US ambassador to Switzerland. If confirmed by the Senate, Reynolds will succeed Ambassador J. Richard Fredericks.

The Swiss government earlier named Christian Blickenstorfer to succeed Ambassador Alfred Defago in Washington.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR