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Switzerland pledges to work with the US

Franz von Däniken also urged the US not to abuse its position in Iraq

(Keystone)

The government says it is ready to work closely with the United States on a whole range of international issues despite tensions raised by the war in Iraq.

A senior foreign ministry official on a visit to Washington stressed Switzerland's commitment to developing a constructive relationship with the US.

However, Franz von Däniken, state secretary in the Swiss foreign ministry, also underscored the need for the US to observe international humanitarian law in Iraq.

"I reminded the US of its obligations as the occupying force in Iraq, as far as the restoration of public order and the protection of the cultural heritage are concerned," Von Däniken told swissinfo, after holding talks with the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.

Armitage told his Swiss counterpart that the US did not consider itself as an occupying force because it was still at war in Iraq.

He also stressed that the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross was being given full access to Iraqi prisoners of war.

International agenda

During Tuesday's talks, Von Däniken drew attention to several international issues on which cooperation could be built or expanded, from Cuba to North Korea to Sudan and Sri Lanka.

"My objective was to show how useful Switzerland can be," said the number two in the Swiss foreign ministry.

"In spite of all that happened in connection with Iraq, in particular this background of a certain anti-Americanism in Switzerland, I wanted to show that we want and we can cooperate with the US."

For the duration of the war, the government banned US and other coalition aircraft from using Swiss airspace to protect its traditional neutrality. Limits were also imposed on arms sales to countries involved in the conflict.

The Swiss also refused to accede to two US demands to expel Iraqi diplomats, claiming there was not sufficient justification.

However, the Swiss did freeze Iraqi government bank accounts worth around SFr500 million ($368 million) following a request from Washington.

Iran

One example of Swiss and US cooperation is Iran where the Swiss embassy in Tehran represents American interests.

Switzerland's role as a conduit between the two countries has stepped up in recent months as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - both neighbours of Iran - and the Middle East nation's inclusion in Washington's "axis of evil".

Von Däniken indicated that the Bush administration had been communicating "quite frequently" with the Iranian authorities via the Swiss canal.

The Swiss foreign ministry also tabled an offer to grant refugee status to several Tibetan dissidents that the US is trying to get out of China.

Hopes of further cementing Swiss-US relations received a setback this week when a meeting scheduled for June 1 between President Bush and Swiss President Pascal Couchepin was cancelled.

However, Bush has now been invited to come to Geneva to attend a United Nations summit in December on the digital divide. Von Däniken suggested that the two leaders might also meet in September at the UN General Assembly in New York.

swissinfo, Marie-Christine Bonzom in Washington

US-Swiss relations

The Swiss government has told Washington that it wants to work together on a range of international issues, such as Cuba, North Korea and Sri Lanka.

The Swiss set out their position during a visit to the US by Franz von Däniken, state secretary in the foreign ministry.

Von Däniken also urged US forces in Iraq to respect human rights.

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