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Swiss reinforce anti-terrorism ties with US

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A new counter-terrorism treaty between Switzerland and the United States is expected to come into force this autumn, according to a senior Swiss diplomat.

This content was published on July 21, 2007 - 18:20

State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Michael Ambühl made the announcement after two days of talks in Washington on issues such as terrorism, the future status of Kosovo and the Middle East.

Ambühl said the new Operative Working Arrangement (OWA), which has been approved by both chambers of the Swiss parliament, would replace an existing treaty in force since 2002.

The agreement follows a decision by the Swiss government two years ago to put its cooperation with the US authorities in the fight against terrorism on a more formal footing.

It was signed by Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Washington in July last year.

The new treaty extends the scope of the original OWA, which was set up to regulate judicial cooperation in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.

It provides the legal basis for joint investigations on terrorism and its financing. These would only be set up once criminal proceedings had been launched in both countries and handed to a prosecutor.

Unlike the first OWA, cooperation is no longer limited to investigations related to al-Qaeda and the September 11 attacks, but extends to all radical Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda.

The new treaty ran into trouble in parliament when centre-left parties in Switzerland expressed serious reservations about the deal, but they failed to stop it being approved.

"Important partner"

Ambühl, who held talks on Friday with US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, said Washington saw Switzerland as an "important partner".

"Our goals are identical and compatible and, even if the ways and means chosen are not always the same, Switzerland and the United States have complementary interests," the Swiss diplomat told swissinfo.

Ambühl noted in particular the potential for future collaboration in finding solutions to thorny issues such as the question of independence for Kosovo.

The talks in Washington coincided with Friday's decision by the US and its European allies not to call a UN Security Council vote on independence for Kosovo following opposition from Russia.

New negotiations

Western nations will now try to initiate negotiations between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo through the Contact Group of advisers on the Balkans, composed of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the US and Russia.

"We need to give negotiations a chance, and this is a good way of proceeding in order to try to reach a consensus," said Ambühl.

"Switzerland was one of the first to recommend a swift solution to the status of the territory which must move towards independence, but with protection for minorities and international monitoring to ensure their rights are respected," he added.

Ambühl refused to set a timetable for independence, but he warned that "a solution to the dispute must not drag on, otherwise the situation could become unstable".

swissinfo

In brief

Switzerland and the US have also agreed to hold a joint seminar on terrorism and biological weapons, which is expected to be held before the end of the year.

They have also decided to stage a conference in Lausanne on the fight against corruption based on the theme of "intellectual property rights as a human right".

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CIA and Geneva Conventions

On Friday President Bush, who has been under fire over the treatment of CIA detainees, ordered that agency interrogators comply with the Geneva Conventions against torture.

Switzerland is the depositary state of the conventions, which form the backbone of international humanitarian law.

Five years after he exempted al-Qaeda and Taliban members from the Geneva provisions, Bush signed an executive order requiring the CIA to comply with prohibitions against "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as set down in the conventions' Common Article 3.

But human rights activists criticised Bush's action, saying it did not go far enough to eliminate dangerous interrogation techniques.

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