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Switzerland and US step up anti-terror fight

Cooperation started after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US

(Keystone)

Switzerland has signed a treaty with the United States on strengthening cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism.

Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed the accord in Washington on Wednesday.

The accord, which was approved by the Swiss cabinet at the beginning of May, covers combating terrorism and its financing.

It is designed to replace a secret treaty signed in 2002 which focused on judicial aid for investigations in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US.

Judged by some quarters as too favourable to the US, this old accord, known as the "Operative Working Arrangement", was never presented to parliament.

Blocher told Swiss public radio that the old working arrangement, "was too much concentrated on September 11 and [the terrorist organisation] al-Qaeda and its content was not public. Now we have a wider accord that has been approved by cabinet".

The new agreement must still be submitted to the Swiss parliament for approval.

According to the justice ministry, parliamentarians are expected to start considering the text this year, with it coming into force by summer 2007 at the earliest.

Exchange

The new pact includes the exchange of law enforcement officials to create joint teams of investigators, who would only act when a criminal procedure has been opened in the two countries and handed to a prosecutor.

Investigators from the other country would mainly offer information analysis support and strategic help. The accord also contains severe restrictions on the use of information gathered by investigators.

The agreement follows the government's decision last year to put its cooperation with the US authorities in the fight against terrorism on a more formal footing. It asked the justice ministry to design a new text, which was worked out after negotiations with Washington.

"Cooperating quickly and safely in terrorist attacks requires that the rules on cooperation be clarified beforehand," said the justice ministry statement.

"That is ensured by the arrangement with the US on cooperation related to combating terrorism and its financing...The arrangement contributes to the security of our country and its people".

"The United States is a constitutional state with a well-functioning system," Blocher said when asked by swissinfo whether Switzerland could trust Washington following a number of alleged infringements of international law in its fight against terrorism.

In recent weeks and months, it has been revealed that the US has been running a secret programme to monitor international financial transactions, and the CIA has been accused of operating secret prisons in Europe.

"That is the way it is in war," Blocher said. "The people want their government to ensure their safety and to do that while functioning normally." He stressed that Bern had maintained "very good relations" with Washington.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

September 15, 2001: Switzerland sets up a task force to probe any Swiss ties to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
September 4, 2002: Bern and Washington sign the secret "Operative Working Arrangement" to fight terrorism.
May 3, 2006: Bern announces a new formal accord with the US to replace the secret treaty of 2002.
July 12, 2006: Switzerland and US sign the accord, which needs parliamentary approval.

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