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Swiss to host talks on humanitarian issues in Iraq

Micheline Calmy-Rey is hammering home Swiss concerns about a war in Iraq Keystone

Switzerland is planning to hold an international conference on the humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq.

This content was published on February 4, 2003 - 15:54

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, said Iraq as well as the United States and Britain would be invited to attend.

Calmy-Rey said the conference would ensure that all participants would be fully prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis that would follow military strikes.

No date was set, but Calmy-Rey said the meeting would take place by the end of February.

The foreign minister emphasised that such a project was in line with Switzerland's longstanding humanitarian tradition and that the country would do its utmost to minimise civilian suffering.

"While Switzerland may be a small country, its influence and credibility goes beyond the reach of its territory," she said.

She mentioned invitations would also be extended to countries with a vested interest in the conflict, such as the United States and Britain, but did not go into details.

On hearing the announcement, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would be interested in lending its voice to the proceedings.

Calmy-Rey said the ICRC, the United Nations refugee agency and Unicef were also expected to attend.

Airspace

On the issue of whether the US and its allies would be allowed to use Swiss airspace during an attack on Iraq, Calmy-Rey said a decision had yet to be made.

But she was clear that no permission would be given unless there was a second UN resolution authorising military action against Baghdad.

She added that the US had so far not asked for permission to use Swiss airspace.

Unusual meeting

The foreign minister was speaking after attending a special meeting with external relations committees from both houses of parliament.

The meeting entailed a review of the events of the past weeks, such as President Bush's State of the Union address, the UN weapons inspectors interim report on the Iraqi arsenal and the open letter of eight European leaders, expressing support for the US's pro-war stance.

Also on the agenda was the role of Swiss neutrality in the face of conflict and increasing Switzerland's contribution in humanitarian aid to Iraq.

swissinfo's political correspondent, Jonathan Summerton, said it was unusual for such a meeting to be held in the presence of the foreign minister.

He added that it showed the government was keen to sound out parliament on how it should proceed in the event of a war in Iraq.

Diplomacy first

The Swiss government has been unwavering in its stance that all peaceful means of disarming Baghdad should be employed before resorting to armed conflict.

This was a message that Calmy-Rey personally delivered to the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, while he was in Davos for the World Economic Forum summit in January.

swissinfo with agencies

Iraq brief

The conference will focus on the humanitarian crisis that would follow military strikes against Iraq.

No date has been set, but the foreign minister said the meeting would take place by the end of February.

She made clear that the US would not be allowed to use Swiss airspace during an attack unless the UN had authorised military action.

The foreign minister communicated Switzerland's opposition to a war against Iraq to the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, during last month's World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

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