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Switzerland expected to get attention of Bush presidency

The Swiss ambassador to Washington, Alfred Defago, says he expects relations with the United States, especially economic ties, to strengthen under the administration of the new president, George W. Bush.

"I expect Switzerland to get a lot of attention through bilateral relations," Defago said in an interview with swissinfo. "Many members of Bush's cabinet know Switzerland quite well."

However, Switzerland's ambassador since 1997 does not expect any fundamental change in relations. He said any changes were likely to be confined to shifts of emphasis in the sectors of business and trade.

Swiss businesses favoured Bush throughout the campaign, because his Republican Party is believed to be more favourable to free trade than the outgoing Clinton administration.

Defago said this, combined with Switzerland's natural strengths, meant economic ties were sure to prosper.

"Switzerland's speciality is naturally its economic and financial position within Europe but also worldwide," the ambassador said.

Switzerland last year ranked among the seven most important direct investors in the US. It was also among the 10 most important destination countries for American direct investment abroad.

In 1999, the US and Switzerland set up a bilateral economic commission aimed at boosting trade and business links.

Last year, Switzerland also opened a science and research consulate in Boston, Massachussets. Defago says Switzerland is interested in promoting joint science and research as well as cultural projects.

US/Swiss relations were temporarily strained under the Clinton administration at the height of the controversy over Switzerland's role during World War Two and over dormant assets in Swiss banks from the Holocaust era.

Defago insists that is all over. He says the pressure was lifted in August 1998, when the two largest Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion to settle all Holocaust-related claims against Switzerland.

The ambassador met Bush when he was governor of Texas in 1998. "I was really astonished to see how interested he was. He asked very precise questions about Switzerland and seemed well informed," Defago recalls.

The Swiss ambassador believes that one of Bush's strengths is his ability to focus on an issue and ask the right questions. He also pleads for a differentiated view of the Bush administration.

Defago says many people in Europe, including Switzerland, have a distorted image of Bush and his Republican Party. "They are considered as much more conservative than they really are," Defago said.

In his opinion, it is wrong to accuse the Republicans of being isolationist: "They are very international, but they define national interest in a different way."

by Urs Geiser


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